Oldest WWII veteran remembers museum service

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Family and friends gathered at the National WWII Museum Saturday to remember Lawrence Brooks, who was the oldest veteran of World War II until his death Jan. 5 at the 112 years old.

During the service, Brooks’ flag-draped casket was in the foreground. The museum’s Victory Belles – whom Brooks loved to hear play – were among several to pay tribute to his life, singing harmoniously “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “Amazing Grace”. Another soloist sang a medley of songs, including “Oh Freedom”, “America”, and “Glory, Glory Hallelujah!”

Museum President and CEO Stephen J. Watson offered his condolences to his family, noting that he was known to the museum as “Mr. Brooks.

“It was his museum and we hope it felt like a second home,” said Watson, who described Brooks as a “beloved friend” and a “sweet soul who inspired everyone around him.”

Watson said Brooks has won the love and respect of many across the country, noting the more than 21,500 birthday cards he received in 2020 from people in all 50 states and 30 countries. .

“His secret to longevity – being kind to people. That positive attitude is a philosophy we should all embrace,” Watson said. “Thank you for sharing it with us and letting us be a part of your life.”

Cedric Richmond, senior adviser to President Joe Biden and a former congressman from Louisiana, also thanked Brooks’ family for allowing his participation in the memorial honoring “a life of purpose.”

“Because he’s here, I’m here,” Richmond said. “His blood, sweat and tears paved the way for me to do all I can do.”

Richmond also read a letter from Biden and his wife, Jill, to Brooks’ family.

“He will be remembered as a strong man and a good soldier,” Biden wrote.

Brooks was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1940. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he was posted to the mostly black 91st Engineer General Service Regiment stationed in Australia. The 91st was a unit that built bridges, roads, and airstrips for aircraft. Brooks was assigned as a caretaker to three white officers – cooking, driving and tending to their clothes.

Lt. Col. Patrick Sullivan, the commanding officer of the 91st, said he had never met Brooks, but was impressed nonetheless.

“It’s amazing to me how such a brief military career could have such a lasting impact on the nation,” Sullivan said. “He served with honor and distinction.”

Sullivan noted that he did a lot of research before Saturday’s service, listening to Brooks’ oral history and reminiscences from family and friends.

“The common thread,” Sullivan said, “was love. He always said ‘Be nice to people’…he did more than just say it, he really lived it. You remind us of to be stronger than we were yesterday.”

Brooks was discharged from the Army in August 1945 as Private First Class. Upon his return from service, he worked as a forklift driver until retiring in his 60s. He has five children, five stepchildren and dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He lost his wife, Leona, shortly after Hurricane Katrina.

“Thank you for taking care of me,” read a tribute to Brooks’ daughter, Vanessa.

After the service, a traditional jazz procession took place as Brooks’ body was carried to Mount Olivet Cemetery, where he was laid to rest.

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