East Texas WWII veteran among last remaining U.S. Navy blimp pilots

Published: Nov. 8, 2022 at 6:36 PM CST
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - They served in relative obscurity during World War Two, but their contribution was priceless to the Allied war effort. One of the last remaining pilots from this unique service lives here in East Texas.

It’s a little known story of the “other silent service.”

Wings, insignias and pictures. Keepsakes for 99-year-old Ray Brooks of Henderson, one of the last remaining U.S. Navy blimp pilots from World War II

“We tried to keep them in the air, particularly when convoys of ships were coming through,” Brooks said.

As a pilot, Lieutenant J.G. Brooks’ primary mission was searching for enemy submarines along allied coastlines.

“We had radar that would pick up a boat on top of the water. Marine airborne detection it would pick up a large metal object 400 feet under water,” he said.

Brooks joined the blimp corps quite by accident, playing a joke on a fellow pilot.

“I just signed up to hear him gripe, and I got picked,” Ray said.

At the height of the war, German U-boats were ravaging Allied shipping. Brooks and his fellow pilots took part in an estimated 37,000 combat patrols, including patrols off the Brazilian coast.

Though blimps could fly for long periods, they were slow, and vulnerable to enemy aircraft and deck guns.

“We lost a lot in the Atlantic,” he said.

But blimps couldn’t land by themselves. with a 10 man crew, there was only one parachute.

Brooks explains.

“One man would jump out in the parachute, and he would try to get about 20-30 men to serve as a landing crew.”

They kept non-stop patrols above American waters, escorted vulnerable convoys far into the Atlantic.

Given what was lost in war, if he had to do it again, Brooks has a heartfelt answer.

“I’d probably do more,” he said.

But what he did do, saved countless lives.

Brooks is a minister that still preaches every Sunday at Longbranch Missionary Baptist Church.

Of historical significance: Navy blimps took part in the sinking of the last U-boat before Germany’s surrender.