I’ve traveled down Highway 98 from Marler Memorial Cemetery to Brooks Memorial Cemetery in Fort Walton Beach, which is about a seven-mile trip. This is where my 2019 Panhandle adventure ends. But it won’t be the last.
I found much less information about Brooks Memorial Cemetery than I did about Marler. The oldest recorded burials on Find a Grave for Brooks are from 1906 (two children), with a total of 251. There’s a short YouTube video that says there are over 500 burials here. I have a hard time believing there are 250 unmarked burials here but maybe the person who made it has a source I don’t have access to.
“Sonny, Don’t Be Shot in the Back.”
During the Civil War, Confederate soldiers from the First Florida Regiment set up an encampment they named Camp Walton. One soldier who served and later became the first permanent settler in the area was John Thomas Brooks (1838-1917).
In his book, A Miracle Strip – Through the Lens of Arturo and the Hearts of Many, Antonio Mennillo wrote that Brooks’ experiences prepared him for that role.
When he was 12 years of age his widowed mother packed her family and family belongings into a covered wagon and left their native North Carolina to take up a land grant in the vicinity of Geneva, Ala. Tom was 18 when the Civil War broke out and he was one of the first volunteers from Alabama. Going to war with this parting injunction from his mother, ‘Sonny, don’t be shot in the back. My prayers will follow you.’
After the war, Brooks discovered that the Alabama home of his mother (who had remarried) was burned down by organized war deserters. Brooks became a sawyer at Reddick’s Sawmill in Walton County and married Harriett Catherine Thomas in 1866. They settled on 111 acres of waterfront land, a tract that now is part of Fort Walton Beach, and began to raise a family.
Camp Walton was eventually renamed Brooks Landing after Tom. It was changed to Fort Walton in 1932 (after Camp Walton). In the 1950s, the name was changed again to Fort Walton Beach in an effort to attract more tourists to the area.
Do you remember Capt. Billy Marler from the last two blog posts? I wasn’t surprised to find that there was a connection with his family and the Brooks family. Tom Brooks’ daughter, Camella, was Capt. Billy’s second wife. The two married around 1904 after his first wife, Carrie, died.
I couldn’t find a picture of it, but Tom opened the first hotel in Fort Walton Beach and called it (naturally) Brooks Hotel. Over the years, Fort Walton Beach (like Destin) would become a tourist mecca for sunshine-seeking folks.
Tom died in 1917 at age 78 and Harriett died in 1920 at age 71. Together, they had eight children who lived to adulthood.
In His Father’s Footsteps
The eldest of Tom’s children, Thomas Clairmon “Clem” Brooks was born in 1873. He loved being near the ocean like his father. By the time he was 18, he was operating his own fishing schooner out of Pensacola. In 1896, he married Emma Lenera Pryor. They would have several children together.
Thomas C. Brooks Jr., born on May 15, 1909 died 16 months later on Nov. 16, 1910. According to the local newspaper, little Thomas “had not been well for several days but it had not been considered dangerous until a short time before his death.”
Clem entered the government lighthouse service and would operate the Capt St. George Lighthouse from 1921-1925.
I’m not sure if Clem and Emma divorced or if she died. I could find no record of her after 1921. But in 1924, he married Ona “Onie” Stewart. Clem died on June 5, 1940 at age 66. Onie died in 1957 at age 73.
A Tale of Two Brothers
I noticed two military graves for two brothers, both served in World War II. As I would soon learn, one survived the war. The other did not.
Born on May 9, 1918, Averette “Avery” Aaron Hinson was the son of Don Green Hinson and Hettie Elizabeth Hinson. A graduate of Fort Walton High School, Avery attended Pasadena Junior College in California, then the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech). On Nov. 5, 1941, Avery entered Army Air Corps pilot training at the school in Columbus, Miss. and was commissioned.
Avery joined his squadron in Greensboro, S.C. shortly before they were sent overseas. He was killed in action in North Africa on Feb. 14, 1943. He would be posthumously awarded a Purple Heart in April 1943. His squadron commander Capt. R.J. Clize said of him, “
Averette applied himself so thoroughly to all duties, and proved to be so trustworthy that on the move to Africa, I gave him command of an appreciable portion of the squadron en route. He did a magnificent job, many times under difficult circumstances, and joined the remainder of the squadron with all men under his command safe and in perfect condition.
Avery’s remains were brought home for burial in Brooks Memorial Cemetery. His father, Don, had already passed away in 1938.
Avery’s brother, Don Gene Hinson, was born in 1926. So he had to wait until November 1944 to enlist in the U.S. Army. He served for about two years. I don’t know if he served overseas. He died in 1988 in Sandy Springs, Md. at the age of 61. He is buried beside his brother Avery.
End of the Road
This marks the end of my 2019 Florida Panhandle adventure. I returned in 2020 to visit a few cemeteries in Pensacola, so be on the lookout for those posts. But first, I’ve got to get through the rest of 2019 and my next stop is in Greenville, Ala. on the way home.
I hope you’ll join me for more cemetery adventures and stories behind the stones.