(TRIBUNE WIRE) — NEW ORLEANS – A man believed to be the oldest living American to have served during World War II celebrated his 110th birthday Thursday at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
Family, veterans, and current military service members joined Lawrence Brooks at the museum, where they celebrated with cupcakes and a musical performance by the Victory Belles trio.
Born in 1909, Brooks served as a support worker in the Army’s 91st Engineer Battalion, a majority African-American unit stationed in New Guinea and the Philippines during the war. He reached the rank of private first class.
The supercentenarian is a father to five children and five step-children.
He had an exhilarating brush with death
In an interview with the museum, Brooks recounted a story of riding in a C-47 cargo plane from Australia to New Guinea. The plane was loaded down with barbed wire but “one of the motors went out on it,” he said.
To lighten the plane, those aboard threw much of the cargo into the ocean. Brooks threw the boxes out of the plane like his life depended on it; there were only enough parachutes on the plane for the pilot and the co-pilot.
Brooks said he joked to the aircraft’s pilot: “If he’s going to jump, I’m going to grab him.”
Thankfully, he didn’t have to resort to drastic measures.
“It was a scary moment,” he said. “But we made it.”
Gustav Gerneth, who fought on the German side in the war and was captured as a Russian prisoner of war, is believed to be the oldest living WWII vet at 113 years old.
In a statement, National World War II Museum CEO Stephen Watson said that Brooks’ life and service was filled with the kinds of “stories of bravery and determination” that the museum exists to celebrate.