Defenders of Freedom

William Brooks military days bring music to veteran’s ears

Not many people who end up in the military are fortunate enough to serve their time doing what they enjoy.

William Brooks can count himself among those exceptions.

Serving in the Air Force from 1951 to 1955, Brooks played music.

“I was in the field band,” he said. “Not in the big Air Force Band.”

It didn’t matter.

Brooks played trombone while stationed in Sewart Air Force Base in Tennessee. His band experience afforded him the opportunity to meet celebrities and to play at military and gala events — all while serving his country.

Brooks enlisted in the Air Force in 1951 during the Korean War.

“I wanted to get in the Air Force Band,” he said.

The Jersey Shore native had played in his high school band, but he didn’t know after enlisting that he was a shoe-in for carrying a horn rather than a rifle in the military.

He spent his basic training at Sampson, N.Y.

What he recalled from those early days in the military was the cold.

“I was assigned to guard duty,” he said.

One night, while trying to keep warm and alert, he got word that six prisoners escaped from the stockade and just might be intent on stealing a boat.

He recalled with a laugh thinking that if they were crazy enough to steal one, they could just have it.

When his band director from high school wrote a letter to the base commander about Brooks’s musical abilities, he soon found himself on a new path.

He was sent for 12 weeks of band school and on to Sewart Air Force Base near Nashville and the 754th Air Force Band.

“I didn’t have an instrument at first,” he recalled. “During the day, we practiced. Every Friday, we marched to the flag pole and played retreat.”

There were concerts every month and other events.

He recalled playing for the governor of Tennessee and meeting famous musicians.

“We were on standby all the time,” he said. “We never knew what big shots were coming in.”

Brooks recalled playing with the band on a local TV station once a month.

The band also made monthly trips to Knoxville for a review of the troops.

“We were on the go a lot,” he said.

It was an enjoyable time for the young airman from Lycoming County, even if it included less joyous gigs such as funerals.

For the most part, being in a band with plenty of talented musicians proved to be a lot of fun.

During his time stationed in Tennessee, he met his future wife.

“I actually met her through a church group,” Brooks said.

Mildred Williams hailed from Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, and the two celebrated 64 years of marriage before she passed away earlier this year.

The couple would raise three children.

When his enlistment neared its end, Brooks contemplated staying in the Air Force but decided to move back to Lycoming County with his family.

“My mother and father bought the White Horse Inn,” he recalled.

Brooks worked as a bartender there for a time before moving on to other work, including Piper Aircraft and Central Cable (later to become Alcan Cable), where he was employed for 28 years.

“I started out as a scrap metal loader,” he said.

He eventually ended up in the recycling department before retiring at age 60.

He’s lived in the same house in Old Lycoming Township for the past 45 years. From his porch, he can sometimes spot deer, turkeys and other wildlife wandering onto his property.

For a time, he played in the Repasz Band and other bands.

At 85, his memory remains sharp.

“I’m diabetic,” he said. “I take pills for that. I got artificial knees and an artificial hip.”

Looking back on his time in the military, he said: “I think that every young guy should go through the military. You learn respect. I was glad to serve my country.”

He said his best memory from his Air Force days was just meeting people and making friends.

“They are just like your family,” he said.