The nation’s oldest living veteran of World War II turned 111 on Saturday.

Louisiana resident Lawrence Brooks, born Sept. 12, 1909, was serenaded by staff at his VA facility and received birthday cards from all 50 states, CBS reported. Prior to his birthday, members of the National WWII Museum in New Orleans had organized an effort to collect cards and well wishes from across the country.

A veteran of the 91st Engineer Battalion, a primarily African-American unit, Brooks served in New Guinea and the Philippines during World War II as a servant to three white officers.

Once, when flying in a C-47 delivering barbed wire from Australia to New Guinea, one of the plane’s engines died, Brooks recounted in his oral history posted on the National WWII Museum’s YouTube channel.

Laughing, Brooks described throwing the barbed wire into the ocean to lighten the plane and keep them flying. Only the pilot and co-pilot had parachutes. When Brooks moved to the front of the plane, another passenger asked what he was doing. “If they go out there and jump, I’m gonna grab one of them,” Brooks said.

Brooks is the father of five children and five step-children and was married to the late Leona B. Brooks.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper wished Brooks a happy birthday in a Tweet, saying: “I salute your service and your lifetime of determination.”

Harm Venhuizen is an editorial intern at Military Times. He is studying political science and philosophy at Calvin University, where he's also in the Army ROTC program.

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