NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Lawrence N. Brooks, the oldest veteran of World War II in the United States – and is believed to be the oldest man in the country – died Wednesday at the age of 112 years.
His death was announced by the National WWII Museum and confirmed by his daughter.
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Most African Americans who served in the disbanded U.S. Armed Forces in early World War II were assigned to non-combatant units and assigned to service duties, such as supply, maintenance, and transportation, said Colonel Pete Crean, vice president of education and access at the museum. in New Orleans.
“The reason it was direct racism – there is no other way to characterize it,” Crean said.
But Brooks, born September 12, 1909, was known for his good-natured sense of humor, positivity, and kindness. When asked about his secret to a long life, he often said, “to serve God and be good to men.”
“I have no hard feelings for anyone,” he said during an oral history interview with the museum in 2014. “I just want everything to be nice, to come out right. I want people to have fun and have fun – be happy and not sad. “
On sunny days, Brooks was known for sitting on the porch of the double shotgun house he shared with his daughter Vanessa Brooks in the Central City neighborhood of New Orleans. Neighbors would shout to the local celebrity, wave and bring him sodas and snacks.
Brooks was passionate about the New Orleans Saints football team and never missed a game, his daughter said. His Church, St. Luke’s Episcopal, too, was close to him, and he never missed a Sunday service before the coronavirus pandemic struck.
Originally from Norwood, Louisiana, near Baton Rouge, Brooks’ family moved to the Mississippi Delta when he was a baby. He was one of 15 children, and lived too far from the nearest school, so his parents taught him what they could do at home.
Brooks was working at a sawmill when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1940. After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, he was assigned to the mostly Black 91st Engineer General Service Regiment stationed in Australia.
Later in the war, troop losses almost forced the military to begin placing more African-American troops in combat positions. In 1941, fewer than 4,000 African Americans served in the military. In 1945, this number increased to more than 1.2 million.
The 91st, where Brooks served, was an army unit that built bridges, roads, and runways for aircraft. Brooks was assigned as caretaker for three white officers. His job was to cook, drive a car and take care of their clothes.
Brooks did not often speak publicly about the discrimination he and other black soldiers faced in the war, or the discrimination his family faced in Jim Crow Deep South, his daughter said.
Crean, who got to know Brooks and his family through his work at the museum, said Brooks talked about noticing how much better he was treated as a black man in Australia compared to the United States, but Brooks told Crean that he was thinking about it would make him angry. , so he tried not to. During his oral history interview, Brooks said that the officers he took care of treated him well and that he considered himself lucky not to have to fight in battle.
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“I was lucky. I said to myself, ‘If I have to shoot at someone, someone will shoot at me and he can get lucky and hit,'” he said.
He often told the story of a time when he was a passenger in a C-47 plane, delivering a load of barbed wire to the front when one of the transport plane’s engines went out.
After they dumped the cargo to save weight, he made his way to the cockpit. He told the pilot and co-pilot that since they were the only two with parachutes, if they had to jump after it, he would grab one of them.
“We made it though,” he said during the 2014 oral history interview, laughing. “We had a big laugh about it.”
Although Brooks was not in combat, he experienced enemy fire during the war. He said the Japanese would sometimes bomb Owen Island, where he worked. He said he got to know the difference in the sound of Japanese, American and German planes approaching.
“We would run like crazy and try to hide,” he said. They had to dig fox holes to protect themselves.
He was discharged from the Army in August 1945 as a private first-class.
When he returned from service, he worked as a forklift driver until he retired in the 60s. He has five children, five stepchildren and dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He lost his wife, Leona, shortly after Hurricane Katrina.
This disaster in 2005 destroyed his home. So in the late 90s, he was evacuated from the roof of his home by helicopter. His daughter described him as “resiliant”.
“He’s been through a lot. He’s really tough, and that’s one thing I’ve learned from him. If nothing else, he instilled in me, ‘Do your best, and whatever you can not do, it makes no sense to worry about it ‘, she told the AP. “I think that’s why he has lived as long as he has done.”
From his 105th birthday, the museum began holding him annual birthday parties. His favorite part of the celebration was watching Victory Belles, a trio that performed 1940s music. During the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 and 2021, the museum organized a parade in front of his home with brass bands and Krewe of Zulu warriors in full decor.
“Even at 112, Mr. Brooks got up a little and danced,” Crean said.
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