Lawrence Brooks, Oldest Surviving WWII Veteran, Dies at 112Breaking News
tags: veterans, African American history, World War 2
Lawrence Brooks, the oldest known living American veteran of World War II, died early Wednesday morning, according to the National World War II Museum. He was 112.
"He was a beloved friend, a man of great faith and had a gentle spirit that inspired those around him," said Stephen Watson, the museum's president and chief executive. "He proudly served our country during World War II, and returned home to serve his community and church. His kindness, smile and sense of humor connected him to generations of people who loved and admired him."
Brooks had been in and out of the local veterans' hospital in New Orleans in recent months, and while still mentally sharp, his body had grown weak, according to the Associated Press.
At the time of his most recent birthday in September, his daughter Vanessa Brooks told the AP, he had recently undergone surgery, suffered a fall, had a kidney infection, and had lost much of his hearing and sight in one eye, with his vision fading in the other.
Still, by all accounts, the supercentenarian maintained a sunny disposition throughout much of his life and was a beloved figure in his community and around the world.
His latest birthday celebration, on Sept. 12, included a drive-by parade due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a serenade by the National World War II Museum's singing trio, and a military flyover of his New Orleans shotgun house.
From the American South to military service in Australia and beyond
Born in 1909, Brooks was one of 15 children and was raised in rural Louisiana and Mississippi. He was drafted into the U.S. Army a few weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor at age 31 when the military was still racially segregated.
"We had our tents, and the whites had their tents," Brooks told the Military Times. "They were next to each other, like next door."
Brooks spent his time during the war serving with the largely African American 91st Engineer Battalion, stationed in Australia, New Guinea and the Philippines.
For much of that time, Brooks was a driver, valet and cook for three officers, two lieutenants and a captain, the Army Times reported. He also helped build bridges, roads and airstrips. Eventually he earned the rank of Private 1st Class.
Throughout his service in Australia, Brooks enjoyed a level of freedom he'd never experienced before, either in the military or at home. In interviews with the National World War II Museum, he marveled over that country's acceptance of Black soldiers, which were a marked contrast to the racist Jim Crow laws of the south at the time.
"I was treated so much better in Australia than I was by my own white people. I wondered about that," he recalled.