One of 15 children in a sharecropper’s house in the country just north of Baton Rouge, young Lawrence Brooks was called up in America’s first peacetime draft in 1940. With a brief intermission after he completed his first hitch, the Japanese Empire’s attack on Pearl Harbor called him back to the colors.
When Brooks died at 112 last week at his home in New Orleans, he was the oldest U.S. veteran of World War II. His remarkable oral histories at the National WWII Museum provide a view into the life of a soldier in the Pacific war.
In the still-segregated Army, Brooks’ engineer unit had White officers. And the young soldier was delighted to serve in 1942 in Australia, where segregation by race was unknown.
Brooks told mainly positive and happy stories about his service, including accounts of driving around the officers and day-to-day life in Australia, a large but then very underdeveloped country. Soldiers and Marines like Brooks built the infrastructure there and in the Pacific islands — New Guinea and the Philippines — that were critical to the war. His battalion eventually served under fire from Japanese warplanes.
Brooks lost his uniform and medals when his home was flooded during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But he received a replacement uniform paid for by generous New Orleans donors and asked to be buried wearing it.
He died a happy man, cheering on the Saints and feted at his home when during the pandemic he could no longer get out for celebrations of his service. But he proudly wore the uniform of the United States Army.
His is a life and example worth celebrating.
An earlier version of this editorial did not note that private donors paid for Mr. Brooks' replacement uniform.