11:37 AM PDT, September 15, 2021
Lawrence Brooks is America’s oldest living WWII vet and this week he celebrated his 112th birthday in style, with two brass bands, live performances that included singing trio the Victory Belles, and a vehicle parade.
The festive drive-by birthday celebration that was organized by the National World War II Museum in New Orleans took place outside Brooks’ New Orleans home. Many folks from the community gathered to wish the centenarian the happiest of birthdays and to thank him for his service, according to a published report.
“We like to tell him, ‘Mr. Brooks, as long as you keep having birthdays, we’re going to keep throwing your birthday party,’ ” said Peter Crean, a vice president of education and access at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, The Washington Post reported.
Wearing a mask, Brooks waved to the crowd as people danced in the streets (some in costume). Some clapped while others shouted, “Happy Birthday,” as people honked their car horns, some holding up signs, and trumpets played as the Victory Belles, sang cheerfully in celebration, WDSU News reported.
“This is one of the days that the entire staff at the World War II museum looks forward to. We all love Mr. Brooks. He represents a generation that helps save the world. He’s just a wonderful person,” Crean said, WSDU reported.
He added: “If you ask Mr. Brooks how did he live so long? He’s going to tell you ‘be nice to people.’ He means so much to his community to his church to the National WW II Museum, but as the oldest veteran in the United States, he means a lot to this nation.”
Earlier in the week, the deputy secretary of Veteran Affairs, Donald Remy, paid Brooks a special visit, and Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards shared a photo of the pair on Twitter as he wished Brooks “a joyous birthday and told him the “entire state of Louisiana thanks you for your service,” WPXI News reported.
This is the eighth year that the museum has thrown Brooks a birthday bash, The Washington Post reported.
At last year’s birthday celebration during the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of WWII-era airplanes flew in formation as Brooks waved from his porch, WPXI reported.
Brooks was born in Norwood, Louisiana, on September 12, 1909. He was one of 15 children and was drafted in the Army in 1940 and went to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, for basic training. In November 1941, he was honorably discharged, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
In December 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the Army called Brooks back into service. It was then when he joined the 91st Engineer Battalion, a primarily African American battalion.
Brooks was part of the team that constructed roads and bridges for the Allied forces and also worked in mapmaking, clearing hazards in airfields, and providing ground support, the department said.
Brooks’ role was not directly involved in combat, but during an oral history for the National World War II Museum, he recalled two times he was in danger. Once during a base bombing while the battalion was in New Guinea, and another time when the engine of a C-47 cargo plane he was on failed.
“I rode in one. It was loaded down with bob wire. We were way over the ocean and one of the motors went out on it. I threw the wire out in the ocean to make the plane lighter,” he recalled.
When the video producer asked if he was scared, Brooks recalled. “It was a scary moment. Yes, indeed.”
Once they were out of danger, he joked, “There was the pilot, the co-pilot and me and just two parachutes. I told them, ‘If we have to jump, I’m going to grab one of them,’” he recalled. “We had a big laugh.”
After the Japanese surrender in August 1945, Brooks’ battalion later transferred to the Philippines. He returned to the U.S. and was honorably discharged as a private first class.
After the war, Brooks returned to New Orleans and worked as a forklift operator. He got married and had five children, five stepchildren,13 grandchildren, and 22 great-grandchildren. He retired in 1979, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs reported.
His wife, Leona B. Brooks, died during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Post reported.