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Birthday Salute

Veteran celebrates 105th birthday at The National WWII Museum.
BY DENNIS R. HEINZE

The National WWII Museum in New Orleans, La., tells the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world through a collection that includes weapons, boats, planes, films, and recently–a birthday cake.

Brooks

Above: Brooks blowing out candles on his cake flanked by his daughter, Vanessa Brooks, and Rev. Edward Thompson, pastor of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

Below: Nick Mueller, president and CEO of The National WWII Museum, paying tribute to Brooks from the podium. Also on the dais at the birthday celebration were, from left, Rev. Thompson, Vanessa Brooks, Lawrence Brooks, and Owen Glendening, associate vice president of Education and Access at the museum. The National WWII Museum photos

Brooks

This fall, the museum celebrated the 105th birthday of veteran Lawrence Brooks, a New Orleans native who served in World War II. Born on Sept. 12, 1909, Brooks was a member of the predominantly African-American 91st Engineer Battalion, and the museum honored him on his birthday with a special ceremony befitting one of the oldest surviving World War II veterans in the country.

The presentation at the museum featured recognition not only from museum officials but from representatives of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the New Orleans mayor’s office, and other national and local organizations. U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond presented Brooks with a letter of commendation during the ceremony, which also was attended by both state senators and Secretary of the Army John McHugh.

During the war, Brooks was stationed in New Guinea and then the Philippines. He was a servant to three white officers in his battalion. His daily routine included cleaning the officers’ sheets, shining their shoes, making sure their uniforms were clean, and accomplishing any task these officers asked of him.

Brooks attained the rank of Private First Class during the war. He was married to the late Leona B. Brooks, and is the father of five children and five step-children. He was joined at the birthday ceremony by his daughter, Vanessa Brooks.

While Brooks was stationed on New Guinea, the Japanese bombed the base where he was located. It was the closest he got to combat during the war, and he described it as one of the scariest moments of his life. Yet he did find some levity in that traumatic event when one of the men he served with dove into a giant ditch behind the kitchen where they drained cooking grease.

Another unsettling event occurred when Brooks was on a C-47 military transport going from Australia to New Guinea. They were hauling a load of barbed wire, and while in flight, one of the engines went out. The co-pilot came back and told the crew they needed to ditch their load in order to make the plane light enough to continue on. Brooks remembers hurriedly throwing crates of barbed wire into the ocean in order to keep the plane in flight.

The National WWII Museum opened on June 6, 2000, as The National D-Day Museum. Founded by historian and author, Stephen Ambrose, the museum tells the story of why the war was fought, how it was won, and what it means today so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn. In 2003, Congress officially designated it as America’s National WWII Museum.

The campus includes the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion, showcasing the large artifacts of the war and exhibits on D-Day at Normandy, the home front, and the Pacific; the Solomon Victory Theater, a 4D theater showing the exclusive Tom Hanks production, Beyond All Boundaries; the Stage Door Canteen, where the music and entertainment of the “Greatest Generation” comes to life; the John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion, where staff and volunteers restore artifacts in public view; The American Sector restaurant and Soda Shop; and the new US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center, where exhibits and interactive experiences paint the picture of a nation mobilized for war.

Admission is $23 for adults, $20 for seniors, and $14 for students in kindergarten through college. Located at 945 Magazine St., the museum is open daily from 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

Dennis R. Heinze is regional editor of the AAA Southern Traveler.

For more information, call (504) 528-1944 or visit online at www.nationalww2museum.org.

November/December 2014 Issue


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