Wendell Holsworth Brookley
Captain, United States Army Air Service
Family musters for fallen aviation pioneer
by Linda J. Card
11th Wing Public Affairs, United States Air Force
"What shall we say of each man in turn, when the travail of each is done? These men of the bold fraternity, who held they could touch the sun? This breed which lifted its face aloft, this clan of the high frontier. Oh, what shall we say at the end of the day, when we muster the pioneer?"
-- From the poem "Muster"
Have you ever wondered how streets were named on Bolling? Some of the names you probably recognize from your military history lessons. Some you may not.
More than 70 years after his fateful flight, Captain Wendell Holsworth Brookley's daughter, Joyce Brookley Meier; his granddaughter, Christine Meier; and her husband, Richard Loofborough, visited Bolling for a final family muster on Brookley Avenue, named after the Captain.
In honor of Captain Brookley and his family, a small memorial ceremony was held by the 11th Wing commander and wing public affairs office Aug. 3 under Bolling's static F-105D display at the bases main entrance on Brookley Avenue. Captain Brookley's family placed a wreath in his honor, and a member of the U.S. Air Force Bands played taps.
"When my father died, my brother and I were very young," Joyce Meier said. "I was only 7 years old at the time. My mother decided that because of our age, it was best that we didn't attend my father's funeral at Arlington.
"Today, when I heard taps being played, I realized that now, after 70 years and eight children, I have finally been able to lay my father to rest. This was like being able to attend his funeral service. This has finally brought me closure."
"It was my pleasure to honor your dad today and the sacrifices made by him and your family," said Colonel Duane A Jones, 11th Wing commander. "This is really what it's all about."
Brookley Avenue was named after the 38-year-old captain when he died in an aircraft accident while stationed at Bolling in 1934.
Captain Brookley attended school, including one year of college, in Nebraska and enlisted in the Signal Corps in 1917. He completed flying training at Fort Logan, Colo., where he received his wings and an Army commission in April 1918. After graduating, he helped train others to fly. He served a tour of duty in the Philippines, returning to the United States in 1920 with an assignment to Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
In 1922, Captain Brookley was transferred from Fort Sill to McCook Field (Wright-Patterson Air Force Base) in Dayton, Ohio, where he flight tested a number of newly designed aircraft. He also did experimental night flying and helped in the development of navigation lights, parachute flares, boundary lights and wind indicators.
In 1924, Brookley placed second in the Pulitzer Trophy Event at the National Air Races in Dayton, posting a speed of 114 miles per hour in a Curtiss R-6 Racer, according to his daughter.
"He and his friend, Jimmy Doolittle (Brigadier General James H. Doolittle), were featured in the 1924 special aviation edition of National Geographic Magazine for their aeronautical accomplishments," Mrs. Meier said.
Captain Brookley was still a first lieutenant when he flew in the 1929 Ford Air Tour as part of "The Commercial Airplane Reliability Tour for the Edsel B. Ford Trophy" from 1925-1931.
He graduated from the Air Corps Engineering School in 1932 and was assigned to the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps.
On February 28, 1934, Captain Brookley, who was assigned to Bolling then, crashed his Douglas BT2-B biplane while on a routine mission from Bolling to Middletown, Pennsylanvaia. The 1931 basic trainer was much like the observation ship he'd flown in 1929, except that it had an updated version of his old Liberty engine that featured a new radial engine, as well as a new propeller design.
Understandably, the propeller came apart, the engine was torn from the plane's mounting and the airplane went out of control. Although Captain Brookley's observer, Captain Merritt G. Esterbrook, survived the accident, Captain Brookley did not.
He tried to jump, but the plane was at a low altitude and his parachute failed to open. He died as a result of the mishap.
In 1940, Brookley Field, later Air Force Base,
in Alabama was also named after him. No longer an Air Force base, Brookley
Field has become an airport business complex that also houses part of the
University of Alabama campus. Brookley Avenue on Bolling remains in honor
of the fallen aviation pioneer.
Wendell H. Brookley was Regular Army, veteran of the Great War, still a First Lieutenant when he flew in the 1929 tour. Brookley served with the test group at McCook Field, instructed at Brooks and Kelly.
On February 28, 1934, now a Captain and assigned to Bolling Field, at Washington, Brookley was en route from Middletown, Pennsylvania to Bolting, flying a Douglas BT2-B biplane. This 1931 Basic Trainer was much like the Observation ship he’d flown in 1929 except that in place of the old Liberty it was updated with a radial engine and a new kind of propeller.
The prop came apart, the airplane went out
of control, and while Brookley’s companion got out in time Brookley jumped
too late: a good man gone to his reward, done in by the newfangled engine