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World’s oldest living WWII veteran celebrates his 112th birthday

The oldest living World War II veteran celebrated his 112th birthday with a celebration outside his home organized by the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. 

On Sunday, a small crowd reunited in front of Army veteran Lawrence Brooks’ house to commemorate his latest trip around the sun and his service to the country.  

Surrounded by golden, white and black balloons, Brooks stood outside his porch and listened to the cheers and ‘Happy Birthday’ wishes, as he energetically waved to the crowd. 

Although he is blind in his right eye and suffers from low blood-pressure, his hearing is in perfect conditions and he is otherwise healthy, the New York Post reported.  

The museum has made celebrating Brooks’ birthday an annual tradition, beginning with his 105th birthday in 2014.

‘We absolutely love Mr. Brooks,’ museum vice president Peter Crean told NOLA.com in 2019.

 ‘We’ve told him, ‘As long as you keep having birthdays, we are going to keep having birthday parties for you here.’ We consider him ‘our veteran,’ ‘ he added. 

(FILE) Lawrence Brooks, the oldest living WWII veteran greeted a crowd sending him ‘Happy Birthday’ wishes at a celebration organized by the National World War II to commemorate his life and service

Brooks served in the 91st Engineering Battalion of the US Army between 1940 and 1945, spent most of his time in the Pacific Theater

Brooks served in the 91st Engineering Battalion of the US Army between 1940 and 1945, spent most of his time in the Pacific Theater

In 2019, when he was asked about his secret to his success in life he said he ‘loved people.’ 

Because of the pandemic, his last two birthdays have been celebrated following social distancing guidelines outside of his residence, but in 2019, his birthday bash was celebrated at the museum. 

It is the third consecutive year that the Victory Belles, the National WWII Museum’s trio performing music from the 1940s, has serenaded Brooks. 

This year they performed Louis Armstrong’s When The Saints Go Marching In for him.  

He has said that his favorite part of his birthday celebrations  are the kisses he gets from the Belles. 

‘I do like the Victory Belles. They’re sweet girls,’ Brooks said. 

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards also shared a photo with Brooks and sent him a Happy Birthday wish on Twitter.

Dozens of other social media users followed with the good wishes and congratulations for the war veteran. 

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards also sent his good wishes to Brooks on Twitter

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards also sent his good wishes to Brooks on Twitter 

Brooks waves to the small crowd that reunited in front of his home in New Orleans to celebrate his birthday

 Brooks waves to the small crowd that reunited in front of his home in New Orleans to celebrate his birthday 

Brooks has never suffered of any major illnesses like cancer, and until a couple of years ago, he was able to walk around his neighborhood. 

After breaking his hip in 2019, the veteran started using a walker. He now spends most of his time in the porch of the house he shares with his daughter.   

‘He sleeps later than he used to, and he has more pain because of his hip,’ 

‘But he likes to eat and loves to get out and see people,’ said Vanessa Brooks to NOLA.com in 2019. 

A fellow churchgoer of Brooks from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church told the museum about Brook’s longevity and veteran status and since then he has become a local celebrity.

Brooks credits his kindness and connection with people as the reason behind his long life. 

‘I don’t know why I’ve lived this long,’ 

‘But I think it has a lot to do with always being nice to people,’ he said. 

World War II veteran Lawrence Brooks holds a dog tag honoring him as the oldest living World War II veteran

World War II veteran Lawrence Brooks holds a dog tag honoring him as the oldest living World War II veteran

Brooks became the oldest living WWII veteran in 2019, after Germany’s Gustav Gerneth, who survived being a Russian prisoner of war, died at the age of 114. 

He served in the predominantly African-American 91st Engineering Battalion of the US Army between 1940 and 1945, spent most of his time in the Pacific Theater. He rose to private first class after being deployed. 

He was first drafted in 1940 at the age of 31 – at a time when all men had to register for Selective Service until 45 – and participated in the famous 1941 Louisiana Maneuvers war games, which were used to test and evaluate the Army in the months before the US entering World War II.

After returning from the war, Brooks had to face the challenges of Jim Crow laws in Louisiana. He also survived Huracan Katrina in 2005, in which he lost his wife.  

Brooks holds a photo of him taken in 1943, during his 110th birthday celebration at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans in 2019

Brooks holds a photo of him taken in 1943, during his 110th birthday celebration at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans in 2019 

'I don't know why I've lived this long,' 'But I think it has a lot to do with always being nice to people,' Brooks said

‘I don’t know why I’ve lived this long,’ ‘But I think it has a lot to do with always being nice to people,’ Brooks said

After his year-long obligation was fulfilled, he was discharged on November 7, 1941. But when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 7, 1941, Brooks was recalled into service.

In 1942, he then spent 48 days traveling from New York to Australia on the Queen Mary, which had to zigzag through both the Atlantic and the Pacific in an effort to avoid German U-boats and Japanese submarines.

At the time, the 91st was used more for physical labor than soldiering, leading to Brooks acting as an orderly for three white officers, driving them around, getting their meals and cleaning their uniforms, among other tasks.

Despite not having to brandish a gun while serving, Brooks still faced life-threatening situations.

The museum has actually made celebrating Brooks' birthday an annual tradition, beginning with his 105th birthday in 2014

The museum has actually made celebrating Brooks’ birthday an annual tradition, beginning with his 105th birthday in 2014

Brooks was born Sept. 12, 1909, and served in the predominantly African-American 91st Engineer Battalion, which was stationed in New Guinea and then the Philippines during World War II

Brooks was born Sept. 12, 1909, and served in the predominantly African-American 91st Engineer Battalion, which was stationed in New Guinea and then the Philippines during World War II

The Victory Belles hold the hands of World War II veteran Lawrence Brooks as they sing him happy birthday celebrating his 110th birthday at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans in 2019

The Victory Belles hold the hands of World War II veteran Lawrence Brooks as they sing him happy birthday celebrating his 110th birthday at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans in 2019

In New Guinea, an incendiary bomb destroyed the tent that he lived in with seven other soldiers. 

Fortunately, they were out watching a movie at the time. And, during a return flight from Australia, he found himself helping to dump bails of barbed wire overboard in an effort to lighten the aircraft’s load when an engine cut out.

In an oral history interview with the museum, Brooks said: ‘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.’ 

When he came back from the war, Brooks settled in New Orleans and worked as a fork life operator until he retired at the age of 70 in 1979.

Brooks married twice and has five children – two of whom he outlived -, five stepchildren, 13 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren.    

He became the oldest living US veteran of World War II when Richard Overton, of Austin, Texas, died in December 2018 at age 112. 




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