World War II Army Veteran Lawrence Brooks has celebrated his past five birthdays at New Orleans’ National WWII Museum with much-deserved pomp and circumstance, as reports an article by nola.com. As Brooks turns 111 years old this year, making him the oldest living World War II veteran, both he and the museum have grown to cherish this celebratory tradition.
Due to the recent pandemic, however, this year the traditional gathering is unable to take place inside the museum, but that won’t deter the city of New Orleans coming together to wish Brooks a happy birthday, as museum officials have been asking the city and nearby communities to send Brooks birthday cards, commemorating his special day. The museum asked for birthday cards from throughout the community to help Brooks celebrate from a socially-responsible distance. Cards are to be mailed to the museum directly.
Lawrence Brooks was born on September 12, 1909, and he was raised in Norwood, Louisiana. During the United States’ second World War, he served the the predominately African American 91st Engineer Battalion, which was stationed in New Guinea and then the Philippines.
Private First Class Brooks was one of more than 1.2 million African Americans serving in the segregated U.S. Armed forces in World War II, a group striving for a dual victory over both tyranny abroad and discrimination back home.
During last fall’s celebrations for his 110th birthday, Brook’s annual party at the World War II Museum received widespread attention with reporters from national news outlets like Newsweek and CNN telling his history. When asked of his special status as the oldest living American veteran of World War II, Brooks reflected, saying that the news made him feel good, saying, “yes, indeed it does,” as reported nola.com.
As he turned 110 last year, that age placed him among fewer than 500 verified “supercentenarians” worldwide, though in Louisiana, Brooks is second in seniority to Napoleonville naive and Gretna resident Odile Washington, who was born only 81 days before Brooks in 1909.
The National WWII Museum in New Orleans hosted the event last year with a party in the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion. Museum vice president Peter Crean speaks for the museum as they affectionately consider Brook to be “our veteran,” commenting, “we absolutely love Mr. Brooks.” In fact, in a remarkable gesture, the museum offered to host the same birthday party celebratory event each year, as long as Brooks continues to have birthdays.
While he greatly enjoys the community involvement, kindnesses, and gestures, the highlight of the event for Brooks is the oft-photographed attentive gathering of the World War II Museum’s vocal trip, the Victory Belles.
Until suffering a broken hip in 2018, Brooks greatly enjoyed walking through his Central City neighborhood, but now he uses a walker for transportation, understandably optioning to rest on the front porch of his Clara Street shotgun double, greeting friends and strangers alike. Living with his daughter Vanessa, Brooks spends most of his time in his large bedroom, reminiscing amongst the decorated walls and tables with pictures and other momentos, many of which have been gathered recently thanks to his newfound celebrity. This notoriety was brought on after a parishioner at St. Luke’s Episocpal Church brough Brooks’ status to the museum’s attention.
All in all, Brooks has had five children (two deceased), 13 grandchildren, and an impressive 22 great-grandchildren. He is not without love and attention, as he believes living with his daughter has greatly extended his time and enjoyment of it beyond all previous expectations, telling nola.com that he believes the reason he’s survived so long is “ because I’ve always liked people so much. Oh yes, I do.”
For more Louisiana related articles, click here.