The Story of Earl Brake:  Heroism in the Philippines, World War II

In a letter he sent home the day he turned 21, Earl Brake wrote,  "I'm trying to keep a smile on my face even though it was so hot

here today I thought I was going to die." Truth was, they say Earl Brake could've grinned 24 hours a day. The youngest boy in a family

of five children, Earl was always the most fun loving. He had wavy blonde hair and bright green eyes, and his favorite word was

"dadgummit." To good old Earl, everything was always "dadgummit." He grew-up in the little burg of Watson, Alabama during the

Depression. But Earl was always known as the kind of fellow who wouldn't let anyone around him get depressed. He had a sister

named Helen and brothers known by nicknames like Doodle, Red and Keg. Most of the family worked in the coal mines, but Earl's

father wanted better for his boys so he opened a small grocery store there in town. All of his boys worked for him.
 

When they weren't working, the Brake boys would head to the swimming hole or walk the two miles to the movies over in Brookside. It was a great place to be a boy. But, like all of his older brothers, Earl was forced to grow-up early when he was drafted into the Army in the summer of 1943. After basic training, Earl joined thousands of other boys in the jungles of the Philippines. While there, Earl quickly earned a reputation for being as good with a Browning automatic rifle as he was at telling a joke.

One day, heavy fighting broke out on the island and Earl's platoon found out that a Japanese force three times the size of their own was about to overrun them. The only way they could escape would be if someone climbed to a hilltop and put down cover fire to hold off the Japanese long enough for the rest of the platoon to move out. The Sergeant asked for a volunteer and, because he was the only one who wasn't married, Earl volunteered. The next thing you know, Earl Brake was on top of the hill giving 'em hell. Because of him, his buddies made it out of there. Earl wasn't so lucky. He died there, alone in the jungle a million miles away from home. It was just 7 days after he and some of the guys had drunk a toast to celebrate his 21st birthday. It only takes one bullet to kill a man, and Earl was shot more than 100 times.

Sometime later a letter arrived at the Brake household. Well after all three of Earl's older brothers had made it back from the war alive. The letter from a buddy said, "Sometimes I dream and I see Earl walking back toward me with that big smile of his. It's a shame men like Earl have to die so that the rest of us can enjoy freedom." His big brother recalls, "I always took up for him in a fight. I wish'd I could've been there that day."
 
For his bravery, Earl was never awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. But that doesn't matter, because the men whose lives he saved that day, many years ago, would be all too happy to tell you that good old Earl Brake from Watson, Alabama, was a hero, all right. And, dadgummit, that's the truth