NEW ORLEANS — When Lawrence Brooks joined the military, it was still segregated. Yet the 107-year-old African-American World War II veteran has lived long enough not only to see that change, but to see a black commander-in-chief too.
Brooks, a New Orleans resident, Monday celebrated his 107th birthday at the city's World War II Museum.
NOLA.COM/The Times-Picayune reports that Lawrence Brooks attended a ceremonial birthday party honoring his service Monday in the museum where he was serenaded and congratulated by other veterans and well-wishers.
The newspaper reports Brooks was a private in the Army's mostly African-American 91st Engineer Battalion. They were stationed in New Guinea and the Philippines. The unit built infrastructure such as bridges, roads and airstrips.
Brooks was assigned as an orderly to three white officers during a time when the Army was still segregated.
Wearing a gray suit, he walked into the museum and then his daughter requested a wheelchair to conserve his strength.
Speaking of the changes he's seen in more than a century, Brooks said, "The biggest change that I didn't think would ever happen was a black president."
In an oral history about his service posted on YouTube , Brooks also described how he was delivering a load of barbed wire to the front when one of the engines of the C-47 he was traveling in went out.
After they dumped the barbed wire to conserve weight he made his way to the cockpit. He told the pilot and co-pilot that since they were the only two with parachutes, if they had to jump for it, he was going to grab on to one of them.
"We made it though," he said laughing. "We had a big laugh about that."