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Monday, May 29, 2023

Saluting America’s Oldest World War II Veteran

From the time of Lawrence Brooks’ birth on September 12,1909 to the present day, the Land of Liberty has evolved into an extremely different place. America’s oldest surviving World War II veteran pushed through notable periods such as the Great Depression, the Civil Rights Movement, Hurricane Katrina, and now an unprecedented pandemic. 

   While Lawrence Brooks rested at home in New Orleans, Vanessa Brooks took a brief breather to trace footsteps of her 112-year-old father’s journey which began when he was born in Norwood, Louisiana. Vanessa has been his devoted caregiver for 13 years. When Lawrence fell and broke his hip in 2018, Vanessa said that she was in the ICU keeping a watchful eye on her father. That is when she heard that the late Richard Overton—the icon who was previously the oldest U.S. World War II veteran— passed away. Thereafter, Lawrence acquired the title as Overton’s successor.

   Military recognition was already underway since Lawrence had been given birthday parties at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans since turning 104 or 105 or so. However, this is when Lawrence began to verbalize pieces of his life in the service.

   “My dad only started talking about his service and his stories since he started going to the museum. Then, he started telling his stories,” Vanessa said, while also mentioning that her father was drafted in the Army. “He was in the 91st Engineer Battalion, (which was) predominately Black, from 1942 to 1945.

   Despite Lawrence’s loss of sight in his right eye, and various health challenges which he has endured over time, Vanessa routinely provides fulltime care to make her father comfortable as possible at home.

   “He doesn’t want to go into a facility. He wants to be home, and this is this is my goal just to honor his last wishes, which is to stay home until…God come and take him home,” Vanessa said.

   A GoFundMe campaign organized for “America’s Granddad” is a tool to enable the public to support Lawrence with a special salute. 

   “The purpose of the page is to give my dad the extra love and caring that he needs in the home, meaning to pay somebody a decent amount of money, you know, to come in here and really put the heart and soul into helping me with my dad,” Vanessa said. “I have had experiences with agencies, and I’ve worked for agencies in the past and they only paid me minimum wage.” 

   The home where Lawrence resides needs repairs, too. Juggling her father’s medical needs, and also managing a rotator cuff challenge led Vanessa to miss income while serving in her caregiver’s role. She worked as an early childhood educator who kept children in her home for years and was employed in the security field.

   “I’ve lived through a lot of sacrifices in my life and pulled out tremendously. Sometimes I didn’t know how I made it out, but I made it out, so I guess it’s fate. And I have faith that it’s all going to be… all right in the end,” Vanessa said.

   Despite Vanessa’s candor, and her father’s riveting story, numerous individuals around the U.S. are just learning about Lawrence’s historic role and daily needs. Although GySgt Tee Hanible USMC (Ret.) is well connected in the veteran community, even she is among them. The Northern Virgina resident who served in the U.S. Marine Corps is a philanthropist, author, national speaker, activist, and reality television personality from FOX’s “American Grit” series.

Celebrating military history is a priority for Hanible. She has worked with an organization called Montford Point Marines Association (MPMA) to preserve the legacy of African American U.S. Marines dating as far back as 1942. After googling Lawrence Brooks to quickly familiarize herself with his story, Hanible began to gain knowledge about the icon’s legacy and needs. She quickly expressed her desire to support him and spread the word about the oldest surviving American World War II veteran who is also African American.

“So definitely, I think it’s on all of us to kind of raise better awareness,” Hanible said. “He is why we are on this American soil to this day, so who are we not showing more appreciation?” 

Hanible added that it is easy to get caught up in other issues that are unfolding, but it is equally important not to lose sight of stories such as Lawrence Brooks’. Please visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/helpamericasgranddad to support him.

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