By Kanishka Singh
(Reuters) - Lawrence Brooks, the oldest surviving U.S. veteran who served in World War Two and was referred to by President Joe Biden as "truly the best of America", died on Wednesday at the age of 112.
His death was announced by the National WWII Museum. The museum's statement did not mention the cause of the death.
Brooks, an African-American, was drafted into the U.S. Army at the age of 31 and spent World War Two in the predominantly African-American 91st Engineer Battalion. He was stationed in Australia, New Guinea, and the Philippines.
Classified as service personnel, he cleaned and cooked for three of the battalion's white officers and attained the rank of Private 1st Class, the National WWII Museum said.
"As the nation’s oldest known living veteran, he proudly served our country during World War II, and returned home to serve his community and church", said Stephen Watson, the museum's president.
His wife, Leona, died in November 2008, and he is survived by five children, 13 grandchildren, and 32 great-grandchildren.
"I had the honor of speaking with him last year, and he was truly the best of America. I’m keeping his loved ones in my prayers", Biden said on Twitter.
During World War Two, the U.S. military was still segregated by race. Recalling that era, Brooks once said he felt he was treated much better in Australia than he was in the United States.
"I was treated so much better in Australia than I was by my own white people. I wondered about that", he was quoted as saying by the museum.
Of the 16 million U.S. veterans who fought in World War Two, about 240,000 remained alive as of Sept. 2021, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The museum said that while Brooks remained proud of his military service, his memories of those days were mixed.
"I had some good times, and I had some bad times," Brooks once said.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; editing by Diane Craft)