Richard Overton, 112, America’s oldest man, who was also the nation’s oldest surviving veteran, died on Thursday in Austin, Texas.
Overton enlisted in the Army in 1942, nine months after the December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor attack. He served with the 188th Aviation Engineer Battalion, an all-black unit, and fought on Guam, Okinawa and Iwo Jima. Overton later said of Iwo Jima, “I only got out of there by the grace of God.”
Overton was born near Bastrop, Texas, in 1906, but spent most of his life in Austin. He built his own home there on Hamilton Avenue after the war in 1945. A noted cigar smoker, he said, “I been smoking cigars from when I was 18 years old, I’m still a smoking ‘em. 12 a day.”
After World War II, Overton worked in furniture stores and later worked in the state treasurer’s office. In 2013, speaking to the Austin American-Statesman, Overton recalled ducking bullets in foxholes and clearing bodies left on the field of battle. He told CNN that he credited God for his long life, admitting he didn’t take medicine and enjoyed his cigars and whiskey. He stated, “I drink whiskey in my coffee. Sometimes I drink it straight. I smoke my cigars, blow the smoke out; I don’t swallow it.”
In 2015, Austin-based filmmakers Rocky Conly and Matt Cooper made the documentary “Mr. Overton.” Overton, who said he liked to go to church, also opined that he loved eat soup, corn and fish, and milk, adding, “And ice cream. I eat ice cream every night. It makes me happy,” noting butter pecan was his favorite. He said, “I still walk, I still talk, and I still drive,” then got into his Ford F100 Custom pickup truck.
In 2016, Overton’s neighbor Helen Elliott told the American-Statesman, “He considers himself our neighborhood watchdog, and he knows everything that’s going on. I don’t think the neighborhood would be what it is without him. He’s our legend, our icon.”
Near the end of 2016, when Overton needed medical care around the clock, his family created a GoFundMe page to raise money for him to stay in his house; it raised over $450,000. In 2017, the Austin City Council gave the honorary name “Richard Overton Avenue” to Hamilton Avenue, where he had lived for 72 years. When he turned 111, people lined up to take a picture with him. His cousin, Volma Overton Jr. said “It looks like everybody’s getting ready to take a picture with Santa Claus — and he never turns anyone down. He’s an open person to everybody, and he wanted everyone who was in town who wanted to come by to come by.”
In March 2017, Overton received a standing ovation at a San Antonio Spurs game, where he was given a custom camouflage Spurs jersey emblazoned with his name and the number “110.”
Last week he was admitted to St. David’s Medical Center, suffering from pneumonia. He died at a rehabilitation facility.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, calling Overton “an American icon and a Texas legend,” added, “With his quick wit and kind spirit he touched the lives of so many, and I am deeply honored to have known him. Richard Overton made us proud to be Texans and proud to be Americans. We can never repay Richard Overton for his service to our nation and for his lasting impact on the Lone Star State.”