Interview with USS Houston Survivor Howard Brooks

By Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

Like many Americans in the late 1930s, Howard Brooks knew it was a matter of time before the troubles in Europe and the rest of the world spilled over to the United States.

Two days after Germany invaded Poland, he left Greenville, Tenn. to join the Navy on Sept. 3, 1939.

He was assigned to the cruiser USS Houston (CA 30) in the Pacific and survived her sinking on March 1, 1942.

The following are clips from an interview conducted on December 9, 2015 with Naval History and Heritage Command.

At first, life at sea was what one would expect of a peacetime Navy.

But as the November turned to December, 1941, tensions began to rise.

Suddenly USS Houston was part of a Navy and a nation at war, and she was trained and ready to do her part.

Houston continued to operate in the waters of Southeast Asia, an area of the map covered by a Japanese target. A small force of American, British, Dutch and Australian ships found themselves in the path of a massive Japanese invasion fleet at the Battles of Java Sea and Sunda Strait…

Houston took a pounding and even managed to inflict some damage on the invasion force, but she was alone and surrounded by enemy ships.

After abandoning his sinking ship, Petty Officer Brooks spent two full days in the water, before drifting in to shore where he and a shipmate were picked up by the Japanese and imprisoned.

Transferred from prison to prison he and a number of other allied prisoners of war eventually found themselves on a ship bound for Burma.

Petty Officer Brooks describes his and his fellow prisoners’ experience working on the Burmese Railway.

The prisoners were subjected to harsh treatment. It went on day after day, month after month, year after year…

What kept Petty Officer Brooks and his fellow prisoners going?

Eventually the tide of the war changed and as the Allies pushed the enemy back, Petty Officer Brooks and his fellow prisoners were moved from camp to camp as the Japanese retreated. Eventually he found himself in a prisoner of war camp in Saigon.

Petty Officer Howard Brooks returned from the war, and continued to serve in the Navy until 1949.

He put his Navy experience to work, serving as an engineer with a commercial company. He also got married and raised a family.

When this interview was done in December of 2015, he was 96 and still exemplifying the honor, courage, and commitment of the entire crew of USS Houston (CA 30) and the U.S. Navy, that today proudly endeavors to follow his example.

Thank you for your service, Shipmate!

 

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