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‘Do What I Was Told, and Keep My Mouth Shut’: Oldest U.S. WWII Veteran Who Turned 110, Recounts Time in Segregated Army

Lawrence Brooks, a Black man honored as the oldest World War II veteran in the United States, has stories for years about his experience serving in a segregated U.S. Army.

“An old sergeant told me that the best thing I could do was do what I was told, and keep my mouth shut,” he told Nola.com. “But I’d already been able to get along with everybody.”

Pictured with bright red lipstick on his cheek, Brooks’ effect on people obviously hadn’t worn off.

 

He was honored Thursday on his 110th birthday at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, and the birthday puts him in the company of fewer than 500 verified “supercentenarians” worldwide, according to Nola.com.

“That makes me feel good,” Brooks told the news site. “Yes, indeed it does.”

Brooks served in the U.S. Army between 1940 and 1945, attained the rank of Private 1st Class during the war and was stationed in New Guinea and the Philippines as part of a predominately Black unit dubbed the 91st Engineer Battalion, according to Fox News.

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He was drafted at 31 years old at a time during which all men up to 45 years old were required to register for Selective Service, Nola.com reported.

During his service, he was sent to Baton Rouge and Lake Charles, San Antonio and Beaumont, Texas, and lastly Fort Polk during the noted Louisiana Maneuvers during the spring of 1941, according to Nola.com.

Because Brooks is Black, his job entailed more physical labor than combat, and by 1942, the year after the United States entered the war, he was serving overseas as an orderly for three officers, getting their meals, cleaning their uniforms and sheets and shining their shoes, Nola.com reported.

Still, Brooks said officers “took a liking” to him and let him sleep when he finished his tasks.

“They treated me like a soldier and not their servant,” he told Nola.com.

The National World War II Museum has been celebrating Brooks’ birthdays since his 105th in 2014, Nola.com reported.

He earned his newest title as the oldest American World War II veteran after the December death of 112-year-old Richard Overton, another Black man.

“We absolutely love Mr. Brooks,” museum vice president Peter Crean said. “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,’” Crean said.

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