Military service is a tradition for this Hill military

Marine Sheila Brooks, of Chestnut Hill, was promoted to the rank of Gunnery Sergeant on Aug. 14 at a ceremony held in the office of the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps at the Pentagon. With Sgt. Brooks – all Marine Corps veterans – are (from left) her brother John P. Brooks, her father John R. Brooks, and another brother Bryan Brooks. (Photo courtesy of John Brooks)

Generation after generation, love of family and love of military service inspire the Brooks family of Chestnut Hill.

John Robert Brooks, 68, a Vietnam-era Marine, whose father John Patrick Brooks served in the Navy during World War II, said he decided to join the Marines because “he wasn’t much of a swimmer” and the Marines are the “elite.”

The father of six adult children said he was extremely proud of all his children – not just the three Marine veterans: John, Sheila and Bryan Brooks.

“I never pushed them or encouraged them, but I was very happy that they were following in my footsteps,” he said. “The Marine Corps teaches you that you can do things even when you don’t think you can.”

Brooks said that for most human beings, their mind tells them they are done “after they’ve achieved 40 percent of what they are capable of.”

“The Marine Corps shows you that you can go way pass that,” he added. “Feelings aren’t facts. Feeling like you can’t go on is not a fact, it’s just a feeling.”

John Patrick Brooks, now 39, joined the Marines when he was 21 years old in 1999.

“Honestly, I really didn’t know what direction my life would take if I went to college,” said John Patrick, who ran his own business before deciding to go back to school to study political science at Drexel University. “I knew if I went to college it would be for all the wrong reasons.”

“Then my brother Bryan graduated from high school and signed his contract when he was 17 years old,” he said.

“I honestly kind of felt like it was expected of me,” said Bryan, “because I was the youngest and the two other men in my life – my Dad and my brother – had joined. Once I was sworn in, I realized it was the best decision I ever made.

“[The training] just sets the stage for living your life,” he said. “It gives you a sense of direction. You have to decide what your mission is and then do it. You can’t wander around wondering what you are going to do. There’s no procrastination. You make a decision and you stick to it.”

After watching Bryan’s graduation, Sheila, who was recently promoted to the rank of to the rank of gunnery sergeant, decided she was going to join the Marines.

Being the oldest brother, John Patrick was very protective of his baby sister Sheila.

“It’s no secret that I advised her not to join the Marine Corps,” he said. “To be frank, the ratio of men to women in the Marine Corps is far less than any of the other branches. Without insulting any of the incredible guys that I served with, I will say that in some instances, I could not imagine that women would want to be involved in some of the difficult training, exercise, or missions of the Marines.

I might also say that I would not wish war, and all the pain and suffering that comes with it, on anyone, especially my little sister.

“None of those thoughts that I had so many years ago, as a younger and far less wise person can take away from the immense pride that I feel when I consider all of Sheila’s accomplishments. That pride is felt by all of her family. She is a stellar Marine and has handled all of the challenges that come with the calling as good or better than any other Marine I have ever known.”

When a soldier serves so does his family

Peggy Brooks, their mother, talked about having three adult children who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Peggy said she wasn’t surprised when both of her sons decided to join the Marine Corps.

“I thought, ‘Well, they are just following in their father’s footsteps.’ That is not uncommon. What is incredibly uncommon is when your daughter sits you down at the dinner table and says, ‘I think I am going to join the Marine Corps.’ I simply broke out hysterically laughing because Sheila, of my six children, was my only child who was afraid to stay overnight anywhere, even in high school with her best friends. I always had to go pick her up.

“I said, ‘Sheila, are you kidding me? I can’t pick you up ‘And she said, ‘Mom, I just have to get over this,’ and I said, ‘OK, well, the Marine Corps will do it.’ And she’s the one who had the intuitiveness, to make a career out of it as a photographer. She’s very happy, and she doesn’t call me every night to come get her.”

Bryan, then 19, was the first one to be deployed to Iraq in 2004. Shortly after Bryan got home from his first deployment, Peggy learned that Sheila and John would be stationed together on the same Forward Operating Base Al Asad in Iraq.

“It was a scary time to have one over there, let alone three [at different times],” Peggy said.

When the Local asked Peggy’s husband John Robert what it was like to have children serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said:

“The only way I can describe it is when you are walking, and somebody jumps out and scares you. For four years, somebody scares you. Every time the phone rings. Every time there is a knock on the door. And at the same time, every night I am still putting on my police uniform and going out the door. My wife was worried about everyone.”

“I was never angry or disappointed in them,” Peggy said. “I was just very proud. I was just filled with pride and gratitude for all of them – anyone who serves their country to make our country better.”

Peggy’s son John Patrick added that if he had his druthers, “we would live in a country that requested service from all of its capable citizens.”

“Military service is but one way that we can sacrifice for others,” he said. “I can imagine a U.S. where young men and women volunteer for a couple of years of civil service after high school. In my view, that is just as admirable as putting on a military uniform. I guess I am saying that I wish that patriotism wasn’t a wedge issue in our society. You don’t have to be able to shoot a gun or run an obstacle course to have love of your neighbors.”

The Marine Corps motto, “Semper Fidelis,” means Always Faithful. Sheila talked about the camaraderie between fellow marines.

“When you are deploying, and you are away from your family, they are your family,” she said. “They are the people who are there for you.”

Sue Ann Rybak can be reached at or 215-248-8804