John Brooks knows bravery.
Nearly 70 years ago, the young, strapping World War II soldier landed on Omaha Beach, proud to represent his country but unsure if the immediate future would keep him alive to remember it.
Fortunately, it did. And after an impressive military career — spanning three wars — his life-risking patriotism has been recognized over and over again.
On Sunday afternoon at his Leawood home, the retired colonial was presented with a Quilt of Valor by the Starlight Quilters Guild of Shawnee. The quilts are awarded to military personnel, active and retired, who have been touched by war.
The red, white and blue hand-crafted quilt displayed sewn signatures of local veterans and those honoring military friends and family.
“I think it’s just outstanding,” Brooks said, admiring the red quilt in his arms. “It’s awfully nice of your organization to think of me.”
Then with a wink, the 93-year-old added, “And it’s a lot better than I could make. Quilt-making is not my specialty.”
For the ladies of the Starlight Quilters Guild of Shawnee, however, the honor was all theirs.
Donna di Natale, the board member who presented the quilt to Brooks, could not think of a more perfect recipient.
Brooks’ military career, she pointed out, represents an important part of American history.
After joining the Army in 1941, he fought in North Africa and Sicily and then was sent to England to train as an anti-tank company commander for the Normandy invasion. He was part of the first company to land on Omaha Beach on D-Day.
While stationed in Germany, he met a beautiful 21-year-old native, Inge, and they were soon married.
As they raised a family, Brooks continued his military career as an officer during the Korean war and the Vietnam war. He retired from active duty in 1966.
His awards over the years include two Purple Hearts and the French National Order of the Legion Honor, among several others.
“People from that era are passing away every day,” di Natale said. “The stories he tells us will be gone, so it’s important to recognize these people and learn from them.”
Not only does Brooks have an impressive military background, but his family tree reads like an American history textbook.
He is a direct descendent of John Brooks, who was an officer in the Revolutionary War and later became governor of Massachusetts.
He is the grandson of Alfred Thayer Mahan, a United States Navy flag officer who single-handedly changed military strategy around the world with his concept of “sea power,” which was based on the idea that countries with greater naval power will have greater worldwide impact.
And his father was one of the U.S. military’s first aviators.
As he got older, Brooks grew proud of his heritage and developed a fascination for American military history.
He travels all over Kansas City giving talks about the topic.
“About six years ago, we sat down with him and recorded all the experiences he could remember and we plan to make it into a book to pass along to our children and grandchildren,” said one of his daughters, Barbara Young of Fairway. “I’m very proud of my dad.”
And while Brooks’ legacy fascinates di Natale, she points out that every veteran has an interesting story to tell. The quilts offered by Starlight Quilters Guild of Shawnee are just a small way of paying respect for those stories, she added.
“We want every veteran to know they deserved to be thanked,” di Natale said.