The nation’s oldest living World War II veteran, Lawrence Brooks, is about to turn 111 years old.
Brooks will ring in his 111th birthday in Louisiana on Sept. 12. For five years, Brooks has celebrated his birthday at The National WWII Museum in New Orleans among a melting pot of military veterans, family, friends, and local well-wishers. However, in light of the ongoing pandemic, the museum has had to change its itinerary.
Museum staffers, keen to honor the veteran as he reaches such an extraordinary milestone, have requested that well-wishers send cards to the museum in lieu of a party. A representative spoke to The Epoch Times via email and revealed that they are expecting between 300 and 700 cards or maybe even more, whilst adding that they already have a “full bin” to deliver to him.
In addition to collecting these cards for Brooks, the museum is also planning on producing a special video tribute for social media as well as a “socially distanced performance” from their vocal trio, The Victory Belles, and a celebratory cake.
The Commemorative Air Force’s “Big Easy Wing” near the Lakefront Airport in New Orleans, a faction dedicated to the restoration and preservation of WWII Warbirds, is also planning a flyover after the Belles sing.
Born in Norwood near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1909, Brooks came from a huge family and was one of 15 children. During World War II, he enlisted, serving in the predominantly African American 91st Engineer Battalion between 1941 and 1945, and was stationed in New Guinea, the Philippines, and Australia.
“When I first went, was drafted into the Army, old sergeant was telling us, ‘You’re training so you can go kill people,’” Brooks regaled. “I said, ‘Kill people? As much as I love people, you’re telling me I’ve got to go kill them?’”
Thus, Brooks took a job as a military cook of his unit instead.
“I was treated so much better in Australia than I was by my own white people,” Brooks mused. “I wondered about that.”
Nonetheless, the 110-year-old man admitted he shied away from talking about it with his cohort. “Every time I think about it, I’d get angry,” he explained, “so the best thing I’d do is just leave it go.”
“African-Americans were still subject to all kinds of limitations and discrimination based on the color of their skin,” the National World War II Museum’s senior historian, Rob Citino, chimed in. “I think they were fighting for the promise of America rather than the reality of America.”
Brooks claims that the climate improved after he returned from the war; the Civil Rights Act, however, wasn’t signed into law until 1964.
The ex-Army soldier retired in his seventies after a secondary career as a forklift operator. He has five children—two of whom he has outlived—13 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren. Tragically, he lost his wife, Leona, during 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.
The National WWII Museum
c/o Happy 111th Mr. Brooks!
945 Magazine St.
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