Lawrence Brooks, the oldest living American veteran of World War II, passed away on Wednesday morning, NPR reports. He was 112.
Stephen Watson, the president, and chief executive of the National World War II Museum confirmed Brooks’ passing.
“He was a beloved friend, a man of great faith and had a gentle spirit that inspired those around him,” Watson said. “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.”
Over the last few months, the supercentenarian had been in and out of the local veterans’ hospital in New Orleans.
As EBONY previously reported, at his last birthday celebration, on Sept. 12th, Brooks was honored with a drive-by parade and a military flyover of his home. The National World War II Museum’s singing trio also paid tribute to him in song.
President Joe Biden expressed his condolences to Brooks’ family upon hearing the news of his passing.
“I’m saddened to learn that Lawrence Brooks—who was the oldest surviving U.S. WWII veteran—has passed,” his tweet read. “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.”
Born in 1909 in Norwood, Louisiana, Brooks has lived in New Orleans since 1929. Drafted in 1940, he was a private in the Army’s Black 91st Engineer Battalion, a majority Black unit that was stationed in New Guinea and the Philippines, which built infrastructures such as bridges, roads, and airstrips. He was honorably discharged in November 1941 but was called back to duty when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
Upon returning home from World War II in 1945, after being honorably discharged as a Private First Class, Brooks settled back in New Orleans, where he worked as a forklift operator until 1979 when he fully retired. His wife Leona, passed away shortly after Hurricane Katrina.
In interviews with the National World War II Museum, he was stunned by the Australians’ acceptance of Black soldiers as opposed to the racism he encountered in the Jim Crow south.
“I was treated so much better in Australia than I was by my own white people. I wondered about that,” he recalled.
According to his daughter Vanessa, Brooks was an avid fan of the New Orleans Saints football team, never missing a game. He was also a faithful member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and was in attendance for every Sunday service until the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Brooks is survived by five children, 13 grandchildren, and 32 great-grandchildren. As he requested, he will be buried in his new uniform.
When asked what was the secret to long-lasting good health and longevity, Brooks answered: “Be nice to people.”
We extend our prayers and deepest condolences to the family and friends of Lawrence Brooks.