On his 112th birthday, today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Lawrence Brooks, the oldest living World War II Veteran.
Lawrence Brooks was born on Sept. 12, 1909, in Norwood, Louisiana. As a young man, he was living in New Orleans, Louisiana, when the Army drafted him in 1940. He went to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, for basic training and honorably discharged in November 1941. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the Army called Brooks back into service. He joined the 91st Engineer Battalion, a primarily African American battalion. Engineer battalions constructed roads and bridges for the Allied forces and also worked in mapmaking, clearing hazards in airfields and providing ground support.
In the spring of 1942, the 91st Engineer Battalion deployed to Australia where Brooks recalled they began working immediately in construction. In the summer of 1942, they transferred to Horn Island in northern Australia before moving to Papua New Guinea. Brooks served multiple support roles during this period, such as cooking food, cleaning uniforms and acting as a chauffeur for officers. Though not directly involved in combat, he did recall two times that he was in danger: once during a base bombing while the battalion was in New Guinea, and another time when the C-47 cargo plane he was on was damaged.
Brooks’ C-47 cargo plane was transporting wire from Australia to New Guinea when an engine failed. He had to work quickly to get rid of all the load to make the plane light enough to continue. “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 in an oral history for the National World War II museum. Brooks’ battalion later transferred to the Philippines after the Japanese surrender in August 1945. He returned to the U.S. and honorably discharged as a private first class.
After the war, Brooks returned to New Orleans and worked as a forklift operator until his retirement in 1979. He has five children, five stepchildren, 13 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren. At the age of 112, he is America’s oldest living Veteran and has appeared frequently at events at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
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Writer: Sarah Concepcion
Editor: Julia Pack, Katherine Berman
Fact checker: Lia Sansoucy
Graphic artist: Kiki Kelley