U.S. Air Force veteran Al Alford joined The American Legion seven years ago and soon began to wonder about a name he encountered each time he stepped into Post 828 in San Antonio.
Who was Fred Brock?
“I had to go out and discover the information,” says Alford, now commander of the 320-member post bearing Brock’s name in District 20, largest Legion district of Texas with more than 6,200 members, for which he is also commander. “I did it by doing internet searches. Then I began to see things. The New York Post had an article about Fred Brock – about him getting killed. And at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.., he had a baseball field named after him. His wife, his mother and father were special guests of the general in charge when they did a dedication to the sports complex named in his honor (in December 1943).”
Tech Sgt. Brock was the first to lose his life while on duty with the Army’s 92nd Infantry Division – the famed “Buffalo Soldiers” – during World War II. Brock was killed, Alford discovered, by friendly fire during a training exercise on Aug. 18, 1943, while installing lines for a field telephone system at Fort Huachuca.
Alford learned that Brock had graduated from San Antonio’s Wheatley High School in 1940 and enlisted in the Army. He was a model soldier and moving well through the ranks when tragedy struck. The segregated 92nd Division would go on to serve in the European Theater of World War II, where more than 2,000 casualties were taken and 548 were killed in action while two – Vernon Baker and John R. Fox – were awarded the Medal of Honor for their valor on the Italian front.
Inside Post 828, an engraved memorial to Fred Brock tells the story of a young man of the World War II era who also gave his life in service and, like his comrades who distinguished themselves in battle, left a legacy for future generations.
“During his brief stay in the military service, Sgt. Brock received the Expert Rifle Marksmanship and Good Conduct Medals,” the plaque reads. “While at Fort Huachuca, he had the duty of playing reveille and taps for the post. He was an avid sports lover and managed a local softball team.”
The walnut-encased engraving goes on to say that at the dedication ceremony to Fred Brock Field at Fort Huachuca, post commander Col. Edwin N. Hardy said, “The dedication of this field and numerous other recreational facilities have made Fort Huachuca’s isolation a thing of the past.”
In 1950, Post 828 took shape from the combination of two other traditionally black American Legion posts in the area. Fred Brock was to be the namesake of 828.
These days, as San Antonio’s annual Martin Luther King Day parade draws hundreds of thousands – making it one of the nation’s largest marches to honor the historic civil rights leader – the name Fred Brock is as visible as Post 828 along the route. The Fred Brock Veterans Wall of Honor is filled with names of those who have served honorably and have a connection to the post. “As historian, one of the things I figured was if this is the individual we named our post after, then we should spare no expense to find a way of displaying him, showing who he is,” Alford says. “So, when members come in and are playing pool or shooting darts in a dart tournament, which we have here all the time, our members get to read a little about the history … also members who come in from other posts.”
As for the Veterans Wall of Honor outside the post home, “we have members from all over the city on that wall,” Alford says. “This is our wall of honor (that says) I’m a part of Fred Brock, and I want to be remembered for being a part of Fred Brock.”
Post 828’s centennial profile page at www.legion.org/centennial explores more of its history, and Alford is urging others in his district to collect and share theirs as The American Legion’s 100th anniversary nears.
“What it does is it essentially forces them to research and archive their information. I really want the historians to take the lead in every post. At last review of the centennial site, there were nine of the then-17 posts (from District 20 that had begun centennial profiles on the national site). It is a very important tool – for retention, as well, because when you look at it and build a photo gallery you can show them: you’re a part of this post’s history now. In addition, many of them don’t know the history themselves. When they look at a centennial post, it gives them a sense of pride.”
One post still awaiting approval of its charter application, Gen. Robert McDermott Post 309 in District 20, is named for one of the founders of San Antonio-based USAA, The American Legion’s preferred provider of financial services. Already, Alford is telling the charter-awaiting 32 members to get their centennial profiles started. “I tell them, ‘You are at the front end of your history.’”
Alford said enthusiastic documentation of a post’s history and the events it conducts, no matter how old, is a membership tool he is not afraid to use. As MLK Day Parade goers returned to their cars, dropped in on the post or took a look at the Fred Brock Post 898 Veterans Memorial Wall, Alford said they will also learn about the three high schools the post serves, the Boys State participants it sponsors each year, the Oratorical Contest it conducts, Junior ROTC awards given and more. “And,” he added, “I will recruit them to be members because we take a lot of pride in this post.”