America's Oldest World War II Vet Celebrates His 110th Birthday with Party in New Orleans
Lawrence Brooks is no stranger to birthday parties, but the bash The National WWII Museum threw for his 110th birthday on Thursday might have topped them all.
The oldest living American veteran of World War II, Brooks has been celebrating his birthdays at the New Orleans museum since 2014.
This year, New Orleans residents, museum guests, veterans, and service members attended the annual celebration at the museum's Louisiana Memorial Pavilion. Festivities included a ceremony, birthday cupcakes, and a performance by the museum's vocal trio, The Victory Belles. The ladies serenaded Brooks and his guests with patriotic classics and even gave the man of honor a few well-deserved kisses—his favorite part.
"We absolutely love Mr. Brooks," museum vice president Peter Crean told NOLA.com. "We've told him, ‘As long as you keep having birthdays, we are going to keep having birthday parties for you here.' We consider him ‘our veteran.'"
Born in Norwood, Louisiana, on September 12, 1909, Brooks served in the predominantly African-American 91st Engineer Battalion, which was stationed in New Guinea and then the Philippines during World War II. According to the museum, he was a servant to three white officers in his battalion and attained the rank of Private 1st Class during the war.
"They just sort of took a liking to me," he told NOLA.com. "They treated me like a soldier and not their servant."
After the war, Brooks worked as a fork lift operator before retiring at age 70. He has five children, five step-children, 13 grandchildren, and 22 great-grandchildren. His second wife Leona died shortly after they were evacuated by helicopter following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He's been a widower ever since.
Brooks became the oldest living American veteran of World War II in December, when Richard Overton, of Austin, Texas, died at age 112. Around the same time, he broke his hip and started using a walker. The only older living veteran of the war is 113-year-old Gustav Gerneth, of Germany.
"I don't know why I've lived this long," Brooks told NOLA.com. "But I think it has a lot to do with always being nice to people."
He theorizes that living with his daughter Vanessa instead of in a nursing home has a lot to do with it though.
"I've started to think about not having many birthdays left," he continued. "But I'm not worried about it, because God has let me live this long already."
"I think it's because I've always liked people so much. Oh yes, I do."
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Happy birthday, Mr. Lawrence and thank you for your service!