Lawrence N. Brooks, the oldest US veteran — and thought to be the oldest man in the country — died on Wednesday at 112. His passing was announced by the National WWII Museum and verified by his daughter.
Vice president of education and access at the museum, Col. Pete Crean, said that most African Americans served in the segregated US armed forces at the beginning of World War II. They were assigned to non-combat units such as supply, maintenance, and transportation.
“The reason for that was outright racism — there’s no other way to characterize it,” Crean said.
His Secret To A Long Life
Lawrence Brooks was known for his good-hearted sense of humor, positivity, and kindness despite his long experience with racism. When asked how to achieve long life, he often said, “serving God and being nice to people.”
“I don’t have no hard feelings toward nobody,” he said in 2014 during an interview with the museum. “I just want everything to be lovely, to come outright. I want people to have fun and enjoy themselves — be happy and not sad.”
On beautiful days, Brooks was known for sitting on the front porch of the house he shared with daughter Vanessa Brooks in New Orleans. Neighbors would call out to the local celebrity hero and bring him soda pops and goodies.
According to his daughter, Brooks loved his New Orleans Saints football team and never missed a game. His church was also something dear to him; he never missed a Sunday service before the pandemic.
The Life Of The Oldest US Veteran
Originally from Louisiana, Brooks’ family moved to the Mississippi when he was an infant. He was one of 15 children, and since they lived far from school, his parents taught him what they could at home.
When Brooks was drafted into the US Army in 1940, he was working at a sawmill. After the events in Pearl Harbor, he was assigned to the 91st Engineer General Service Regiment stationed in Australia.
The 91st was an Army unit that built bridges, roads, and airstrips for planes. Brooks was a caretaker to three white officers. His job was to cook, drive and take care of their clothes.
Brooks did not often speak publicly about the discrimination he and other Black soldiers endured during their service in the war, his daughter said.
He often told the story about when he delivered a load of barbed wire to the front lines when one of the C-47 aircraft engines went out.
After dumping cargo to conserve weight, he made his way to the cockpit. He told the pilot and co-pilot that since they were the only two with parachutes, he was going to grab on to one of them if they had to jump for it.
“We made it, though… We had a big laugh about that,” he said.
Brooks experienced enemy fire during the war despite being assigned to a non-combat unit. He said the Japanese would bomb Owen Island, where he worked. He said he learned to tell the difference between the sounds of American, Japanese, and German planes approaching.
They had to dig foxholes to protect themselves. “We’d be running like crazy, trying to hide,” he said.
“He’s been through a lot. He’s real tough, and that’s one thing I learned from him. If nothing else, he instilled in me, ‘Do your best, and whatever you can’t do, it doesn’t make no sense to worry about it,'” his daughter said. “I think that’s why he has lived as long as he has.”
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