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America’s oldest World War II veteran has an important message…8 min read

September 21, 2021 5 min read

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America’s oldest World War II veteran has an important message…8 min read

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Lawrence Brooks served the US Army from 1941 to 1945 during the
Second World War in the Pacific as a support worker to its officers.
On September 12, he celebrated his 112nd birthday with a
wave from his porch and a simple message of kindness

Let’s get to know this soldier, shall we?

Lawrence Brooks was born on September 12, 1909 in Norwood, Louisiana. He grew up with fifteen siblings. His early life also taught him the skill of cooking which he could later put to good use during military service.

Memories from 76 years ago are recorded in the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, and one such resounding set of memories belongs to the world-war veteran and resident, Brooks.

In an oral interview for the museum, Brooks recalls his experience of being on a plane that was transferring wire from Australia to New Guinea when an engine failed:

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.’

FOX23

Brooks served in the primary African-American 91st Engineer Battalion. His unit was stationed in New Guinea and Philippines during the years of the war. Here, he served three officers. He was drafted by the Army in 1940. After a year of training, he was honorably discharged from Camp Shelby, Mississippi.

What does “drafted” mean?

In earlier times, certain countries going into war could demand military service from their viable civilian population. This was mostly young men. In many cases, there was forced enrollment.

Image: Giphy

He returned to the service when Pearl Harbour was bombed by the Japanese in 1941. On December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service executed a surprise miitary strike against the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu leading to the death of  2,403 Americans. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasika in Japan was USA’s retaliation against this move.

Brooks with a photograph from his days in the forces. Image: USA Today

After Japanese surrender in 1945, Brooks was transferred to Philippines. He was honourably discharged from service that year as a private officer. On his return, Brooks returned to New Orleans and worked as a forklift operator until his retirement at the age of 79. He is a father to five, grandfather to fifteen, and great grandfather to twenty-two!

Brooks believes that the secret to his long life is simple: “Serve God, and be nice to people.”

The covert message…

But his years in the forces have a strong message of their own. It is important to note that the Second World War took place long before the American Civil Rights Movement. This meant that there was a stark difference in the roles adorned by white soldiers and African-American soldiers. And Brooks experienced this racism in the forces and outside of it.

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?

Nat Geo

Don’t you think it is peculiar that America went to war against Adolph Hitler, the monstrous racist dictator of Germany, while continuing to be in a segregated community of its own?

Out of the 16 million people who served in the US Army during the Second World War, 1.2 million were African-American. Brooks never discussed his discomfort with racism with his fellow soldiers to avoid the perceivably irreconcilable anger. It was only in 1948 that President Harry Truman forced desegregation in the forces through an executive order.

Image: Wikipedia
Click on this image to know about Martin Luther King Jr, a prominent figure of the Movement.

Brooks was always peace-loving having grown in a home where he was taught to love people. Holding a gun never sat well with him. But he had to carry a rifle on him even when he was on transport duty of officers.

Brooks reported that he was treated better by ‘white’ Americans after the war perhaps with the burgeoning movement for equal rights. Upon return, Brooks chose not to discuss his war years with his family. His daughter, Vanessa Brooks, only started hearing these stories when the National Museum started celebrating his birthday in New Orleans.

He believes that his military years taught him much about the value of his life.

Image: Twitter

Last year, Brooks was treated to a flyover as a squadron of World War II-era aircraft flew in formation as he stood waving from his porch. And this year, he received a group of his dancing friends and family with exuberant waves!

Why is it important to revisit history to mark important days? What does Brooks’ story teach us? There are many instances of world leaders trying to rewrite the past. Click on the images below to know more about them. How does it help? Let Owliver know in the comments below.

With excerpts from FOX23, National Geographic, and USA Today


(In the Spotlight is a weekly column that features people who are in the news for all the right reasons)