Oldest US Veteran of WWII Dies at 112
Lawrence N. Brooks, the oldest World War II veteran in the U.S. — and believed to be the oldest man in the country — died on Wednesday at the age of 112.
Most African Americans serving in the segregated U.S. armed forces at the beginning of World War II were assigned to non-combat units and relegated to service duties, such as supply, maintenance, and transportation. "Outright racism" is said to be the reason.
But Brooks, born on Sept. 12, 1909, was known for his good-natured sense of humor, positivity, and kindness. When asked for his secret to a long life, he often said, “serving God and being nice to people.”
“I don’t have no hard feelings toward nobody,” he said during a 2014 oral history interview with the museum. “I just want everything to be lovely, to come out right. I want people to have fun and enjoy themselves — be happy and not sad.”
Brooks was working at a sawmill when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1940. After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, he was assigned to the mostly Black 91st Engineer General Service Regiment stationed in Australia.
Later in the war, troop losses virtually forced the military to begin placing more African American troops into combat positions. In 1941, fewer than 4,000 African Americans were serving in the military. By 1945, that number increased to more than 1.2 million.
The 91st, where Brooks served, was an Army unit that built bridges, roads, and airstrips for planes. Brooks was assigned as a caretaker to three white officers. His job was to cook, drive and take care of their clothes.
He was discharged from the Army in August 1945 as a private first class.