Helen Rooks was born in Beaufort, South Carolina. She was the oldest of five children and her father worked as a lumberman, while her mother was a homemaker. Though she was initially interested in joining the Navy, a recruiter at the local courthouse convinced her to join the Coast Guard in 1943. Her time in the service began with a rough start when the train in which she was traveling struck a cow on the way to Miami. Upon arriving at her duty station, she worked as a yeoman with Air-Sea Rescue. At a hospital in Coral Gables, Florida, she worked in the burn unit. She recalls witnessing debris floating up onto the beach from battles with nearby German submarines. Rooks spent her off-hours enjoying the nightlife in Miami. She received a citation for being a charter member of the Women in the Military Service for America and was recognized for her service by Governor Olin Johnston. She was married to her husband Milton—a World War II veteran—for 53 years before his death in 1991.