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A World War II veteran participates in the Veterans Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019, in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
How Many Ww2 Veterans Are Still Alive Today
May 8 marks the 75th anniversary of V-E Day, when World War II ended in Europe. In the United States, V-E Day celebrations will honor the 16 million Americans who served during the war, although only a small percentage of those veterans are alive today.
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Nearly 300,000 U.S. World War II veterans will be alive in 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which has released projections of the number of living veterans from 2015 to 2045. The number of World War II veterans has declined in the Second World War. 939,000 in 2015. Most living war veterans are in their 90s, although some are much older.
Of the 350,000 women who served in the US armed forces during the war, about 14,500 are alive today.
For this post on the number of living American World War II veterans in 2020, we used veteran population projections calculated by the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Projections estimate the number of US veterans each year from September 30, 2015 to September 30, 2045.
VA projections show that between September 30, 2019 and September 30, 2020, 245 World War II veterans are expected to go missing each day. These projections were calculated before the COVID-19 pandemic and do not take into account any deaths related to the disease. The last surviving American combat veteran is expected to die in 2044.
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Living veterans of World War II are scattered throughout the country, with the highest numbers in the most populous states. California and Florida are home to more than 30,000 war veterans. Each of these states is home to 10% of the total World War II veteran population.
About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact finder that informs the public about the issues, attitudes, and trends that shape the world. It conducts opinion polls, demographic surveys, analyzes of media content and other empirical research in the field of social sciences. The Pew Research Center does not take political positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts.
At 110, Lawrence Brooks of New Orleans is the oldest known World War II veteran. From 1941 to 1945, he served in the Pacific with the predominantly African-American 91st Engineer Battalion as a support factor for its officers. Of the 16 million American veterans who fought in World War II, only 300,000 are still alive. He attributes his longevity to a healthy lifestyle, deep faith and love for people.
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Editor’s note: Lawrence Brooks died on January 5, 2022 at the age of 112, the National World War II Museum said in a statement.
The memories are more than 75 years old: cooking red beans and rice halfway around the world from the place in Louisiana where the recipe was first developed. Cleaning uniforms and shoes for three police officers. jumped into the trenches when his trained ear picked up that the approaching warplanes were not American but Japanese.
The man who keeps these memories is even older. At 110, Lawrence Brooks is the oldest known World War II veteran. This month marks 75 years since the end of the war in Europe. Of the 16 million American veterans who served, about 300,000 are still alive today, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (Listen to the last living voices of World War II.)
Brooks is proud of his military service, though his memories of it are complicated. Black soldiers who fought in the war could not escape racism, discrimination and hostility at home.
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Pictured in his home, Lawrence Brooks holds a photo of his younger self. Born on September 12, 1909, Brooks was drafted into the Army at age 31. Despite the segregated military and the hostile treatment he received during and after the war, Brooks is a proud veteran. After the war, he worked as a forklift operator until his retirement almost 40 years ago. The National World War II Museum in New Orleans holds a party for his birthday every year.
When Brooks was stationed with the US Army in Australia, he was African-American at a time before the civil rights movement had at least codified equality in his homeland.
“I was treated a lot better in Australia than white people treated me,” says Brooks. “That’s what I was wondering. That worries me so much. Why?”
Rob Citino, senior historian at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, says the U.S. military “racistly characterized” African-American soldiers during the war.
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“You can’t put a gun in their hands,” he says of the attitude at the time. “They can do simple jobs. That was the fate of the African-American soldier, sailor, airman, if you will.”
The positions open to African-American forces depended on the type of service and changed as the need for manpower increased during the long war years.
I believe they fought for the promise of America and not the reality of America…Dr. Rob Citino, Senior Historian, National World War II Museum
“We went to war with Hitler, the worst racist in the world, and we did it with a segregated military because, despite assurances of equal treatment, this was Jim Crow America,” Citino says. African Americans were still subject to all kinds of restrictions and discrimination based on skin color. I think they were fighting for the promise of America, not the reality of America.”
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Of the 16 million Americans in uniform, 1.2 million were African Americans, who “were often treated as second-class citizens at home,” according to Citino.
To illustrate, Citino says, consider that German prisoners of war could be served in restaurants en route to or from their command at Camp Herne, Texas, but the African-American soldiers being transported would be denied service.
Brooks says he never discussed this inequality with his African-American colleagues. “Every time I think about it, I get angry, so it’s best to let it go,” he says.
The military was not officially disbanded until President Harry Truman implemented it by executive order in 1948. For Brooks, who served in the military from 1940 to 1945, the order came too late.
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As a reluctant soldier, he was not comfortable being asked to take someone’s life.
“My mom and dad always raised me to like people,” he says, “and I don’t care what kind of people they are.” “And you’re telling me I woke up next to these people and I have to kill them? Oh, no, I don’t know how that goes.” (See maps of nine key moments from World War II.)
Brooks grew up in Norwood, Louisiana, near Baton Rouge, and comes from a large family of 15 children. He learned another lesson from his mother—cooking—in his military service, where he was assisted by a few white officers in cleaning and cooking. Part of the 91st Engineer Regiment in the Pacific theater, whose responsibility it was to build military infrastructure, Brooks’ unit often didn’t stay anywhere long. He occasionally commanded the officers he served during nights in town when they could get away on an adventure or two. But even that job didn’t stop him from carrying a gun wherever he went.
“I had to have it with me,” he says. “And I was glad I did. I didn’t want to be out there shooting at people because they were shooting at me, and maybe they got lucky and hit.”
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Brooks says white Americans treated him “better” when he returned from the war, but it was nearly two decades before the Civil Rights Act was signed into law.
The father of five children, 13 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren, Brooks worked as a forklift operator for many years before retiring in the 1970s. For years he avoided discussing his wartime experiences and shared little of his story with his children as they grew up.
His daughter, Vanessa Brooks, who cares for him, says she first heard his stories about five years ago when the World War II Museum started hosting annual Christmas parties for him in New Orleans, where he now lives. But he still deflects family questions about his war years.
“I’ve had some good moments and some bad moments,” Brooks says. “I was just trying to put all the good and bad things together and try to forget them all.”
Richard Arvin Overton
Brooks says his years in the military taught him
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