ALBERT H. ROOKS, CAPT, USN
Albert Rooks '14
Date of birth: December 29, 1891
Date of death: March 1, 1942
From the 1914 Lucky Bag:
Albert Harold Rooks was born in Colville, Washington, on December 29, 1891. He entered the United States Naval Academy as a midshipman July 13, 1910, and was commissioned in the rank of ensign upon graduation on June 6, 1914. During the next seven years, among them the First World War years of 1917–18, he served in several ships, including USS West Virginia (ACR-5), USS St. Louis (C-20). He commanded the submarines USS Pike (SS-6), USS B-2 (SS-11), USS F-2 (SS-21), and USS H-4 (SS-147).
In 1921, Lieutenant Rooks joined the staff of the Twelfth Naval District, at San Francisco, California, remaining there until 1925, the year he was promoted to lieutenant commander. He next spent three years on board the battleship USS New Mexico (BB-40), followed by duty at the U.S. Naval Academy. In 1930, he helped commission the new cruiser USS Northampton (CA-26) and served on her until 1933, when he returned to the Naval Academy for a second tour.
In February 1936 Commander Rooks placed the new destroyer USS Phelps (DD-360) in commission and remained as her commanding officer until 1938. His next assignment was as a student at the Naval War College, and, upon completion of his studies, he served on that institution's staff. He was promoted to the rank of captain on July 1, 1940, while still at the War College. In 1941 Rooks took command of the heavy cruiser USS Houston (CA-30), flagship of the Asiatic Fleet. He took his ship through the painfully difficult first three months of the Pacific War, when the Asiatic Fleet and its British and Dutch counterparts fought desperately against an overwhelming Japanese onslaught into Southeast Asia, the Philippines and the East Indies. Both Houston and her commanding officer were lost in the Battle of Sunda Strait, on March 1, 1942.
Captain Rooks posthumously received the Medal of Honor for "extraordinary heroism, outstanding courage, gallantry in action and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of the USS Houston during the period of 4 to February 27, 1942, while in action with superior Japanese enemy aerial and surface forces." During this period Houston survived six air attacks and one major naval engagement, doing considerable damage to the enemy while being heavily damaged herself in one air attack and in the naval engagement. Captain Rooks died on the bridge as a result of enemy-inflicted wounds and went down with his ship after her courageous fight against overwhelming odds.
Medal of Honor
From Hall of Valor:
The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to Captain Albert Harold Rooks (NSN: 0-8625), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism, outstanding courage, gallantry in action and distinguished service in the line of his profession, as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. HOUSTON (CA-30), during the period 4 to 27 February 1942, while in action with superior Japanese enemy aerial and surface forces in the Netherlands East Indies. While proceeding to attack an enemy amphibious expedition, as a unit in a mixed force, HOUSTON was heavily attacked by bombers; after evading four attacks, she was heavily hit in a fifth attack, lost 60 killed and had one turret wholly disabled. Captain Rooks made his ship again seaworthy and sailed within three days to escort an important reinforcing convoy from Darwin to Koepang, Timor, Netherlands East Indies. While so engaged, another powerful air attack developed which by HOUSTON'S marked efficiency was fought off without much damage to the convoy. The commanding general of all forces in the area thereupon canceled the movement and Captain Rooks escorted the convoy back to Darwin. Later, while in a considerable American-British-Dutch force engaged with an overwhelming force of Japanese surface ships, HOUSTON with H.M.S. EXETER carried the brunt of the battle, and her fire alone heavily damaged one and possibly two heavy cruisers. Although heavily damaged in the actions, Captain Rooks succeeded in disengaging his ship when the flag officer commanding broke off the action and got her safely away from the vicinity, whereas one-half of the cruisers were lost.
Division: U.S.S. Houston (CA-30)
USS Rooks (DD 804) was named for Albert; the ship was sponsored by his widow.
Albert's papers and correspondence is in the archive of the University of Houston Libraries.
Lyman Swenson '16 was also on the staff of the Twelfth Naval District in December 1923.