Leland Brooks of Lemon Grove would have loved Wednesday—the 4th of July. He would have loved being out and about, visiting with fellow veterans and seeing the cacophony of red, white and blue.
“He was obsessed with the American flag,” said his wife, Glenda. “He loved this country.”
Brooks, a commander at the La Mesa American Legion Post 282, died June 21, succumbing to a battle with esophageal cancer. He was 64.
Just a few days prior to his death, on Father’s Day, Brooks and Glenda (Cain) were married in a private ceremony, after having dated since 2008.
Brooks, a member of the American Legion for 21 years and one of its commanders since 2006, was a longtime advocate for veterans. He served as a rifleman in the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968. He was awarded a Bronze Star for his service, before being honorably discharged.
Brooks was also a representative for the American Legion District 22, a responsibility that he took with utmost importance, even until the hours right before his death.
“We were supposed to be [out of town] attending a meeting for the American Legion, helping lobby Congress for legislation to help veterans,” Glenda said. “He was in the hospital, and we couldn’t make the trip, but he was still worried about the logistics, trying to get everything worked out.”
Glenda said that he was “loved by everyone” at Post 282.
“He was always going around shaking everyone’s hand and kissing all of the women,” she said. “He was kind of larger than life around here.”
Glenda said that Brooks was so beloved, that she had to get the approval of some of the other women around the American Legion before dating him.
“He was like the darling of the American Legion,” she said. “But from the first evening he kissed me and we started dating, there wasn’t a day when I wasn’t by his side. He encouraged me so much with his passion for the veterans. He looked at the veterans as deserving of everything that they should get.”
His impact was felt in the city, even beyond the walls of Post 282. Brooks worked with veterans at the VFW Post 1775 and gladly opened the doors of the Legion to the VFW after a in December 2010.
"The passing of any individual is a painful time for family, friends and the community, and Leland leaves a huge void in all areas,” said Mayor Art Madrid. “He was a tireless worker on behalf of veterans and public safety related issues. La Mesa's American Legion Post 282 will forever remember his many contributions and strong advocacy for all veterans who were willing to make the supreme sacrifice when their country called on them."
Brooks was born in Kansas City as one of nine children. He spent his childhood in Kansas and in Manitou Springs, Colorado. An avid fan of the Denver Broncos, he was rarely seen without clothing that either had the American Flag or Broncos blue and orange.
In fact, Glenda proposed to Brooks at Post 282 at a surprise party, by giving him a Broncos football that was signed by Denver great (and San Diego native) Terrell Davis.
Brooks was an advocate for all veterans in La Mesa and around San Diego County.
“He loved to make veterans smile,” Glenda said.
He never wanted to let his sickness get the best of him, even working tirelessly with Glenda and his three sons, to help put together the American Legion float for the La Mesa Flag Day Parade on June 2. He rode proudly, dressed as Uncle Sam, and waved to the parade onlookers.
“He was so sick during that time,” said Glenda. “A week after the parade, he was in the hospital. But he didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him. Even in the midst of everything, he was concerned with other people, and wanted to make other people happy.”
Brooks worked for years at the Point Loma Sub Base as a supervisor, heading a team that maintained fire alarm and sprinkler systems. He rarely took any days off, even after being diagnosed with cancer in November 2011.
“I had 1,900 hours of sick leave accumulated,” said Glenda. “He never wanted to think negative thoughts about [his illness]. I think he always thought he would have more time.”
She said that they had planned a wedding celebration for their family and friends on July 21 at the American Legion.
“We are still going to have that party,” she added. “He would have wanted us to.”
On June 1, a was completed on the side of the building as a tribute to Brooks. The painting was done by La Mesa resident and Legion bartender Glory Sanchez.
“He was so thrilled to be able to see it finished before he died,” Glenda said.
Those same eyes, which envisaged the pride and patriotism for this country, will live on. Always a giver, Brooks’ last gift was perhaps his most meaningful, as he donated his body for cancer research.
Just a couple days after his death, Glenda received word that his corneas had been successfully transplanted into a recipient.
“No sooner had his eyes closed, that they opened for someone else,” she said. “I pray that when this person looks at the [American] flag, they see it the way Lee did.”
Brooks is survived by his wife and “his boys,” sons Dallas, 33; Travis, 28; and Trevor, 26. A memorial service will be held at at 11 a.m. July 8 at the American Legion Post 282. A full military burial will take place at the Miramar National Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, it is suggested that donations be made in Brooks’ name to the American Legion, to aid in ADA upgrades and renovations to its restrooms.