Lawrence Brooks, a member of America’s “Greatest Generation,” celebrated a milestone birthday on Saturday turning 111 years old. Brooks lives in New Orleans and the National World War II Museum there ensured that his birthday was a memorable one.
Although his old age and the coronavirus dictated a mostly social-distanced party, he was still given a celebration to remember.
The museum has hosted Brooks’s birthdays for the past several years. The museum put together a birthday card drive in an attempt to get between 500 and 1,000 birthday cards for Brooks. They received over 10,000.
“It is such an honor to have the oldest living U.S. veteran of World War II living so close to our institution, and it was meaningful for us to continue to celebrate Lawrence Brooks and his incredible life in a safe manner this year,” Amber Mitchell, the museum’s Assistant Director of Public Engagement, said in a released statement.
“As we continue to lose members of The Greatest Generation, it is so important that we honor these men and women for their bravery and sacrifice while they are with us,” she added. Of the over 16 million who served in WWII, there are still a little more than 389,000 veterans left; and of those, we lose nearly 300 a day.
While Brooks watched from his front porch, the museum’s vocal trio “The Victory Belles,” who sing the sounds of the Big Band era 1940s, akin to the famous Andrews Sisters of that timeframe, sang “Happy Birthday” to him from outside his gate. As they serenaded him with “The Bugle Boy from Company C,” Brooks danced on his porch.
He was also treated to a flyover from the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team and the Big Easy Wing.
Brooks received a birthday salute on Twitter from Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
“Happy 111th birthday to our oldest living WW2 veteran, Lawrence Brooks. I salute your service and your lifetime of determination,” Secretary Esper wrote.
Brooks was born in 1909 and served in the predominantly African-American 91st Engineer Battalion during World War II in Australia, New Guinea, and the Philippines.
In an interview with National Geographic back in May, Brooks had spoken about serving in the then-segregated military. He had recounted the following: “I was treated so much better in Australia than I was by my own white people. I wondered about that. That’s what worried me so much. Why?” Brooks had said that he was troubled by the treatment that he and other black soldiers faced: “I’d get angry, so the best thing I’d do is just leave it go.”
The military remained segregated until 1948.
After the war, Brooks returned to New Orleans and worked as a forklift operator until retiring in the 1970s. He lost his wife and all of his possessions in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Brooks has five children, five stepchildren, 13 grandchildren, and 22 great-grandchildren. When asked about his key to living a long and happy life, he told National Geographic, “Serve God, and be nice to people.”
Happy Birthday Mr. Brooks.