Austinite Richard Overton, America's Oldest Veteran, Dies At 112

Dec 27, 2018

Richard Overton, the oldest known American World War II veteran, has died. Overton, who turned 112 in May, was the oldest man in the United States. He was hospitalized recently for pneumonia but was released from the hospital earlier this week.

Overton was born in Bastrop County in 1906. He enlisted in the Army in 1940 and was part of an all-black engineer aviation battalion.

"Uncle Sam called me in, and I went there and I had to do it," he told KUT's Audrey McGlinchy in 2015. He served in Pearl Harbor and in the Pacific theater at Okinawa and Iwo Jima.

Credit United States Army

After the war, he returned home to Texas and his job at a furniture company.

"I didn't get no scratch on me," he told NPR in 2015. "I'm glad I'm back home, and I'm glad I didn't get like some of the others. Some got their arms off. Some got their leg off. Some lost their body. Some lost their soul."

"I sure was lucky," he said. 

Overton had lived in his East Austin home, which he built in 1945, since the war. Meals on Wheels Central Texas and the Home Depot Foundation renovated the house on Hamilton Avenue in 2017 so he could continue living there safely.

On his birthday that year, the street was symbolically named in his honor.

In 2013, Overton was invited to Washington, D.C., by President Barack Obama for Veterans Day. He had breakfast with the president and Vice President Joe Biden, before attending a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. There, he received a standing ovation as Obama honored him:

When asked what it was like to meet Obama, Overton said, "He's a human, just another human."

"I had a nice time with him," he told McGlinchy.

Overton smokes a cigar on his porch during a party to celebrate his 111th birthday.
Credit Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUT

The secret to Overton's longevity may have been his daily cigars and whiskey. In an interview with Fox News Radio in 2017, he said:

"Well, I always drink a little bit. That's kept me alive, that's why I'm living so long. Makes you happier. It's the same as medicine if you take it right."

But Overton told McGlinchy that he believed his longevity was simply "God's work."

A memorial service will be held Saturday, Jan. 12 at 11 a.m. at Shoreline Church, located at 15201 Burnet Rd. in North Austin. A burial service will follow at the Texas State Cemetery.

You can see more about Richard Overton's life in his own words in this 2015 short film "Mr. Overton" by filmmakers Matt Cooper and Rocky Conly.