Lawrence N. Brooks was born in 1909 in Norwood, Louisiana, near Baton Rouge. Most of his youth was spent near Clarksdale, Mississippi where his family moved when he was a baby. His family farmed in that area. He had two uncles who served in World War 1. They were discharged in 1918. Brooks was three years old in 1912 when the Titanic sunk. The event was reported by a newspaper article which depicted people jumping off the ship as it went under. There were no telephones or televisions so the only news available at that time was via the newspaper. Brooks remembers little about World War 1 except the return of his uncles. His father was deferred because of the number of children in his family. In the 1920s, the Brooks family moved to Stephenson [Annotator's Note: Stephenson was renamed Crosby in the mid-1930s] which was a sawmill town. Brooks and three of his brothers worked at the sawmill. They seemed to do everything together. They went in together and paid 300 dollars for a T-model Ford. They paid 50 dollars every month on the vehicle. The fuel tank could be filled for 15 cents [Annotator's Note: he chuckles about the low prices.]. They rode everywhere in the car. Brooks' father worked during the Great Depression and raised food on his farm for them to eat. They lived near a dairy farm and received a calf that they raised. It would later provide beef for the family to consume. The Brooks had a large smokehouse to preserve the meat. His father acquired 100 pounds of ice and put some of the meat in an insulated hole in the ground with the ice. The Depression was not too bad on the family. There was little education for the children because of the distance from the family home. He was home schooled by his parents. That included learning how to get along with people. The family experienced discrimination living in the South. If they wanted something, they had to access the rear entrance of a building. They could not go through the front. Family members resisted that limitation. They would find another way to get whatever they needed as opposed to going to the rear and getting it. It was good thing when President Roosevelt [Annotator's Note: President Franklin D. Roosevelt] signed the Social Security law. Things began to get better. The dollar was much larger in size back then. President Roosevelt reduced the size of the bills. Brooks was drafted in 1940. He heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor after he was inducted into the military.
Lawrence Brooks was drafted in 1940 and went for basic training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. By November [Annotator's Note: 1941], he and several other men were released from their service because there seemed to be little for them to do. They were immediately called back in December after Pearl Harbor was bombed [Annotator's Note: Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese on 7 December 1941]. Brooks was sent to Indian Gap, Pennsylvania. They were given injections in preparation for overseas deployment. They boarded the Queen Mary in New York Harbor and sailed through the locks of the Panama Canal. He noticed that the Pacific and the Atlantic do not mix. The depths of the two oceans are different [Annotator's Note: Brooks gestures with his hands]. Brooks did not like the idea of being drafted. He did not want to go into the military, but he did. After sailing across the Pacific, he landed in Townsville, Australia. From there, he sailed to Owens Island with the 91st Engineers [Annotator's Note: 91st Engineer General Service Regiment (Colored)]. He took care of three officers. For him, managing their needs as far as their clothing and food was preferred to being in the infantry with people shooting at him. The 91st was an Army unit that built bridges, roads and airstrips for aircraft to land. He liked Townsville, Australia and the nice people there. Brooks arrived overseas in 1942. The voyage across the Pacific took eight days. The vessel took a roundabout route to avoid Japanese submarines. It was a long ride. The white officers that Brooks took care of were good men. They were good to him. There were no problems. He would take them to town in a weapons carrier. They told Brooks what time to come pick them up afterward. Instead of returning to camp, Brooks would find somewhere in town to have some personal fun. Then he would go and pick the officers up and return to camp.
Lawrence Brooks followed the war while he was in service. One of the islands he was on had Japanese pillboxes. The emplacements had to be eliminated. Brooks did not personally get involved in the fighting. He was a single man at the time. He had lived with an aunt prior to the war. He wrote letters home and received them in reply. Cakes and other cooking items were sent to him. Brooks was in the South Pacific. His outfit built airstrips. While he was on the islands, he met many natives. He boarded a barge to go to a location where an airstrip was to be built. While working there, the tide went down and supplies ran low. They had to find something to eat. In Australia, Brooks went to both Townsville and Brisbane. He was in Brisbane in 1943 and has a picture to commemorate the event. It was a beautiful place. Trains would run between Townsville and Brisbane but were limited by varying train gauges. Trains could not proceed any further as a result. Every town had changes in track. Local people treated Brooks well. He was working for the three officers at the time [Annotator's Note: Brooks served in the 91st Engineer General Service Regiment (Colored) and was assigned to three of the unit's white officers and was required to tend to their clothing and food needs. The four men got along well.]. Brooks could not leave the camp unless he was driving the officers outside. Otherwise, he remained in camp. When he returned to the United States, Brooks was sent to Missouri. There was an officer's club there. As a private first class, Brooks could not enter the club. Since he had been so well liked by the others, a staff sergeant gave him his jacket so that he could enter the officer's club. He had fun. Brooks was discharged as a private first class in August 1945.
Lawrence Brooks feels that young people should learn about World War 2. Much can be learned at The National WWII Museum. He feels it is wonderful. A C-47 [Annotator's Note: Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport aircraft] is hung in the overhead of one building there. Brooks was a passenger in that type of aircraft when he flew from Australia. It was loaded with barb wire. Over the ocean, one of the engines failed. The copilot opened the door and threw out much of the wire to lighten the aircraft. Brooks went to the front of the plane. When asked why he was doing so, he said that the only parachutes on the plane were on the pilot and copilot. If they were to jump, Brooks planned to grab one of them. It was a scary moment. Everyone had a big laugh about the incident [Annotator's Note: Brooks laughs at the memory]. While on Owens Island, there was a small body of water about a mile wide. Across was another island named Thursday Island. The Japanese would bomb the Americans on Owens Island. Thursday Island contained a Japanese graveyard. It was not bombed. When an air raid appeared imminent, the Americans would jump into a boat and go over to Thursday Island to avoid the bombing. Brooks did experience enemy fire during the war. They had to dig foxholes to protect themselves. Attacks were frightening while they happened but funny afterwards. Each time they set up a camp, a large hole would be dug near the camp kitchen. When the men departed, all the refuse from the kitchen would be thrown in the hole and a bulldozer would bury it. One night an air raid warning sounded in the camp. Brooks had gotten to the point where he could tell the different sound made by a German, Japanese or American plane. The bombs started falling and the men ran for their foxholes in the midst of their sleep. One individual ran to what he thought was his foxhole and ended up jumping into the trash hole. He had to be fished out by his buddies from the greasy hole. He kept sliding back down into the hole [Annotator's Note: Brooks laughs]. There were some good times as well as some bad times during the war. Having a black president means a lot to Brooks today. He thought it would never happen. He wants everything to do right with the world. He has no bad feelings toward anyone. Everyone should just try to have fun and enjoy themselves and not be sad.
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