Having served as a support worker in the predominantly Black American 91st Engineer Battalion, before reaching the rank of private first class, Lawrence Brooks is the oldest US World War II veteran who is now gearing up for his 111th birthday on September 11. Instead of throwing a party for him like they do every year, National World War II Museum is looking for people to send him greeting cards instead.
While cupcakes and musical performance by the museum’s vocal trio – the Victory Belles, family, veterans, and current military service members marked the celebrations of Brooks’ 110th birthday, COVID-19 has dampened the cheer this year. Contemplating new innovative ways to mark the celebrations nevertheless, the museum came down to an old school idea.
Amber Mitchell, Assistant Director of Public Engagement at the National World War II Museum told CNN, “We just thought there has to be some way that we can still celebrate him in a way that is safe but also gets more people involved.” She added, “We aren’t able to gather in ways that we’re used to, we can always invent new ways to connect or rediscover old ways, like you would with a birthday card. I mean, who doesn’t want to write a card to a person who’s 111 years old?”
The letters can be delivered to:
The National WWII Museum
c/o Happy 111th Mr. Brooks!
945 Magazine Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
In 2005, Brooks had lost his wife, Leona, following their evacuation by helicopter during Hurricane Katrina. Retired, Brooks now lives in the Central City neighborhood of New Orleans with his daughter and caretaker, Vanessa Brooks and is often flanked by his 5 children, 5 step-children, 13 grandchildren and more than 20 great-grandchildren.
In a 2015 oral history interview, Brooks recounted how one of the C-47 plane’s engines went out when he was stationed in World War II’s Pacific theater as a young soldier tasked with carrying a shipment of barbed wire from Australia to New Guinea. The plane was only equipped with two parachutes and in order to stabilize the plane, Brooks along with the pilot and co-pilot lobbed loads of wire into the ocean.
If even that would have failed, Brooks remembered that he had joked about grabbing onto the pilot if the later jumped. Surviving that close call, Brooks had shared in the interview, “It was a scary moment but we made it.”