America’s oldest known living World War II veteran turned 111 years old on Sept. 12.
Lawrence Brooks served as a support worker in the predominantly Black American 91st Engineer Battalion stationed in New Guinea and then the Philippines and reached the rank of private first class during the war, according to CNN.
In an interview with National Geographic last year, Brooks said he was proud of his military service, even though his memories of it are complicated.
“I was treated so much better in Australia than I was by my own white people,” Brooks told National Geographic. “I wondered about that. That’s what worried me so much. Why?”
Brooks said he never discussed those inequalities with his fellow black soldiers.
“Every time I think about it, I’d get angry, so the best thing I’d do is just leave it go,” he said.
The American armed forces were not formally desegregated until 1948.
“I had to keep it with me,” he told National Geographic. “And I was glad I did. I didn’t want to be out there shooting at people because they’d be shooting at me, and they might have got lucky and hit.”
The father of five children, 13 grandchildren, and 22 great-grandchildren, Brooks worked for many years as a forklift operator before retiring when he was in his 70s.
The National World War II Museum in New Orleans has thrown Brooks a birthday party for the last five years. Due to the coronavirus pandemic this year, it collected thousands of birthday cards in Brooks’ honor.
Brooks said the key to a good life is straightforward: “Serve God and be nice to people.”
Reach Julia LeDoux at Julia@connectingvets.com
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