Lawrence Brooks, the nations' oldest surviving World War II veteran, died Wednesday (Jan. 5). He was 112 years old. The Louisiana native is survived by five children, 13 grandchildren, and 32 great-grandchildren. His wife, Leona, died in 2008.
According to the Associated Press, Brooks, born on Sept. 12, 1909, was also believed to be the oldest man in the country. His secret to longevity was “serving God and being nice to people.”
Among the many condolences to Brooks’ family were messages from President Joe Biden and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards.
“I’m saddened to learn that Lawrence Brooks – who was the oldest surviving U.S. WWII veteran – has passed. 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,” Biden tweeted.
The governor tweeted, “I am sorry to hear of the passing of Mr. Lawrence Brooks, America's oldest World War II veteran and a proud Louisianan. I am thankful I had the chance to meet him and learn from his service.”
Brooks was born in Norwood, La., a small village outside Baton Rouge. When he was an infant, Brooks' family moved to Mississippi to work as sharecroppers during the Great Depression, NBC News reported.
He served in the Army’s 91st Engineer Battalion overseas in Australia, New Guinea and the Philippines. Under the military’s segregation rules at the time, he served in a predominantly Black unit where African American soldiers typically did menial labor and non-combat services.
According to the AP, Brooks was assigned to three white officers as a caretaker. His work involved cooking, chauffeuring and caring for their clothes.
He returned home to the Jim Crow South. Reminiscing on that time, NBC quoted Brooks as saying, “I was treated so much better in Australia than I was by my own white people. I wondered about that.”
According to his daughter, Vanessa Brooks, the military denied him his GI Bill benefits after leaving the Army. Consequently, Brooks could not pursue the college degree that he wanted. He became a forklift operator until he retired.
Brooks was celebrated by the National WWII Museum as one of the oldest World War II vets.
"As the nation’s oldest known living veteran, 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," the museum’s President Stephen J. Watson said.