Lawrence Brooks celebrated his 112th birthday this past Sunday, making him the nation’s oldest World War II veteran.
Brooks was born in Norwood, Louisiana in 1909, then moved to New Orleans in 1929.
He was drafted to serve in the U.S. Army in 1940 at 31 years old. Around 1.2 million Black men fought in World War II. Jim Crow still had its claws dug into the south, so Black soldiers were treated like dirt. Black soldiers were also segregated from white soldiers, forced to use separate blood banks, hospitals, gyms, barracks, etc.
Fellow white soldiers would throw racial slurs at their Black counterparts and routinely harass them.
But that didn’t stop Lawrence Brooks from serving his country. He would first serve in the 91st Engineer Battalion in New Guinea and the Philippines. From 1941-1945 he was a soldier in the Pacific Theatre, where he would reach Private First Class. Brooks unit of engineers was tasked with constructing infrastructure for the U.S. Army. Since his time in the army was segregated he also had to assist white officers with daily tasks. Brooks recalls a time when he served in Australia and was taken back by how different the white people there seemed. He noted that he was treated better by the white people there than in the United States.
After Brooks completed his military service, he returned home to New Orleans, became a forklift driver, and had five children. The living legend now has 13 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren.
On his birthday he is celebrated every year by the National WWII Museum. This year due to COVID restrictions, Brooks celebrated his 112th with a drive-by party in front of his News Orleans home. The party included a parade of Jeep’s, a live performance from the museum vocal trio, as well as some good ol’ New Orleans street jazz.
Lawrence Brooks is one of America’s oldest national heroes. Often we miss the opportunity to show these pioneers the love they deserve. Please give this Black man his flowers, because he deserves them.
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