Lawrence Brooks was drafted into the Army when he was 31 years old.
Lawrence Brooks, who was the oldest living U.S. veteran of World War II, passed away at age 112 on January 5, 2022. Brooks' death was confirmed by the National WWII Museum. According to the website, Brooks was born on Sept. 12, 1909, and was drafted into the Army when he was 31 years old. He spent World War II as a member of the U.S. Army's 91st Engineer Battalion, a primarily African American division. One of 15 children, he was raised in Norwood, Louisiana, a small village about 40 miles north of Baton Rouge. Through his time of service, he was stationed in Australia, New Guinea, and the Philippines. Brooks was a driver, valet, and cook for three officers, two lieutenants, and a captain at the time.
I’m saddened to learn that Lawrence Brooks – who was the oldest surviving U.S. WWII veteran – has passed. I had the honor of speaking with him last year, and he was truly the best of America. I’m keeping his loved ones in my prayers. pic.twitter.com/HBNLTy8aHL— President Biden (@POTUS) January 5, 2022
"He was a beloved friend, a man of great faith and had a gentle spirit that inspired those around him," said Stephen Watson, the museum's president and chief executive. "He proudly served our country during World War II, and returned home to serve his community and church. His kindness, smile and sense of humor connected him to generations of people who loved and admired him."
Speaking of war and the prejudice he faced as a Black man during his years of service, the late veteran once said that he "had some good times, and I had some bad times." The violence of war was tough but “My mother and father always raised me to love people,” he remembered, “and I don’t care what kind of people they are.” Brooks had joined the military at a time when it was still racially segregated. "We had our tents, and the whites had their tents," Brooks told the Military Times. "They were next to each other, like next door." Brooks was surprised at how differently people treated him when he was transferred to Australia. The people accepted the 9,000 Black soldiers that served there at the time. “They were nice people, the Australians,” said Brooks previously. “They were wonderful.”
Rest in power, Lawrence Brooks.https://t.co/zXdBm1iMGG— 𝓢𝓮𝓽 𝓨𝓸𝓾𝓻 𝓜𝓲𝓷𝓭 𝓕𝓻𝓮𝓮🌊🎞🎨 (@CMSmith47734305) January 6, 2022
After the war, Brooks worked as a forklift operator for four decades and he retired in his 70s. His wife passed away in November 2008, and he is survived by five children, 13 grandchildren, and 32 great-grandchildren. Many well-wishers came forward to offer their condolences. Actor Gary Sinise, who famously played Lieutenant Dan Taylor in 1994's Forrest Gump and has helped veterans through the Gary Sinise Foundation, also recalled meeting Brooks. "An American hero passed away this morning. Lawrence Brooks, the oldest living WWII vet at 112 years old," he wrote on Twitter, alongside a photograph of the two together. Over the years, when the veteran was asked how to live a long and happy life, his answer remained consistent: “be nice to people.”
Cover image source: The National WWII Museum