Here are the last voices from WWII

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By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor

Sometimes when people talk to Lawrence Brooks he has to tell them “there’s no need to yell, I can hear you just fine.” At 110 years old, he understands that some may think his hearing is fading. It’s not. The oldest living veteran of World War II, Brooks credits a healthy diet, loving people and the Lord for his longevity.

Brooks, on the cover of this month's National Geographic magazine, is one of 300,000 living U.S. veterans of World War II. Two other secrets to his vitality? Long walks and chewing gum, he told Michelle Miller of CBS News.

Brooks served in the mostly African American 91st Engineering Battalion in Australia, New Guinea, and the Philippines, working as a cook and valet. He was among 1.2 million black World War II soldiers. Many of those soldiers faced the challenge of the Jim Crow South when they returned home. That included being treated as second-class citizen and being denied the right to vote. The Civil Rights Act wouldn’t come for another 20 years, Chelsea Barsted writes for NatGeo.

In 2005, Brooks survived an unspeakable tragedy. He lost his wife, Leona Brooks, shortly after the couple was evacuated by helicopter from their home during Hurricane Katrina. “Hurricane Katrina took everything I owned, washed away everything,” he said last year.

Still, Brooks is upbeat. He was a guest of the New Orleans Saints during the 2017 Super Bowl and looks forward to the annual birthday parties that the National World War II Museum in New Orleans has been hosting since 2014.

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Today in a minute

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It was 40 years ago today: The deadliest volcano eruption in U.S. history occurred on May 18, 1980, when Mount St. Helens exploded in southern Washington State. “As a geologist, you expect volcanoes to erupt,” says Dorothy Stoffel, who was taking pictures in a Cessna 182 when St. Helens suddenly opened. “You do not expect mountains to instantly fall apart.” Nat Geo’s Maya Wei-Haas writes about that day—and the odd positioning of the mountain in the first place.

Progress, interrupted: Detroit was on its way back before COVID-19 hit town, but its fighting spirit might keep it from going down, writes Cassandra Spratling for Nat Geo. Nonetheless, it gets personal. Spratling, a friend for 30 years, was pressed back into work writing obituaries at the Detroit Free Press after retirement. She was rocked when she was asked to write about one stranger. It turned out he was in the same bicycling group that Spratling is, riding through the city once a week before the pandemic. “He could very well have been one of the many people I’ve laughed and joked with or waved at along the rides,” Spratling wrote.

What we can learn from spiritual leaders: Native Americans, struggling with COVID-19, are turning to spiritual leaders as well as medical officials for perspective on weathering this latest scourge. “With an emphasis on community, resilience, and a holistic relationship with nature, spiritual leaders from different tribes express guarded optimism that people of all backgrounds will learn from the lessons coronavirus has to teach,” Rachel Hartigan Shea reports for Nat Geo.

Now is the time: With parts of the world still under quarantine, the founder of StoryCorps recommends asking elder loved ones about their stories right now. Dave Isay writes a personal family history could combat “the terrifying prospect that we might die alone, without the embrace of a loved one, with words left unsaid.” He writes: “For people sheltered in place looking for something meaningful to do, it’s the very definition of time well spent.”

Down by the river: For decades, Romans battled oncoming hordes along the the Danube, Nat Geo’s History magazine reports. Forts and watchtowers fortified the 1,700-mile river, which formed the empire's northern border, with Rome on one side and Germanic tribes on the other. Subscribers can read more here.

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An ancient outdoor library: A Jornada Mogollon rock art engraving in central New Mexico is one of thousands of engravings on a basalt flow in the Tularosa Basin. Jornada Mogollon culture flourished here about 2,000 years ago. This site stands out for the unmatched density of petroglyphs. There are over 21,000 individual works in this archeological preserve. The images speak to the Stone Age, a time of hunting with arrows. At 5:29 a.m. on July 16, 1945 those same ancient images witnessed the arrival of the Atomic Age as the the first A-bomb test lit the morning sky just 35 miles to the west.

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The big takeaway

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Picking up the slack: As cases of COVID-19 rose in Indonesia, the central government lived in denial. For weeks, it refused to say the nation of 267 million had a single case. Then it rejected lockdowns. So many Indonesians have created their own lockdowns. They’ve blocked off alleyways and have distributed food. Today, China is the only Asian nation with a higher COVID-19 death toll than Indonesia, reports Krithika Varagur for Nat Geo.

Updated map: Where U.S. cases of the coronavirus are rising and falling

In a few words

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The last glimpse

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Staying away from COVID-19: As the pandemic raged in New York, Kim Bonsignore wasn’t going to have her second child in a hospital. So, with help, Bonsignore gave birth to her daughter, Suzette, at home. Above, Bonsignore is exhausted after giving birth, resting inside the birthing pool in her living room.

Read: She chose to give birth at home

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, with Jen Tse and Eslah Attar selecting the photos. Thanks for reading, and happy trails!