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Meet the Oldest Living U.S. Veteran

December 28, 2018 in History

By Jesse Greenspan

At age 112, World War II veteran Richard Overton still enjoyed his whiskey and cigars.

For his first 107 years, Richard Overton lived in relative anonymity. A World War II veteran who fought in the Pacific, he could usually be found post-retirement on the porch of his Austin, Texas, home, smoking cigars and chatting up his extensive circle of family and friends. Then, in 2013, he visited Washington, D.C., and was referred to in the media as the oldest living U.S. veteran. (In actuality, that would not become true until 2016.)

Suddenly, Overton was an in-demand celebrity. Texas Governor Rick Perry showed up at his door bearing whiskey. President Barack Obama invited him to the White House. The San Antonio Spurs gave him a number 110 jersey (his age at the time) and brought him onto the court for a standing ovation. And he became a staple at Austin civic events, such as the annual Veterans Day parade.

Meanwhile, strangers began sending him cigars in the mail, calling him on the phone, or coming by the house to thank him for his military service. “He’s very social,” says Volma Overton Jr., 69, his second cousin once removed, who visited Overton daily. “He’ll spend time talking to everybody and shaking everybody’s hand.”

Under doctor’s orders, his relatives limited his porch time so that he didn’t overextend himself. Yet they acknowledge he thrived on the fame. “He kind of lives off all that,” Volma Overton Jr. said in 2016. “He knows that he has this attention and status around the world.”

In addition to being the oldest U.S. veteran, Overton was also thought to be the oldest living male in the United States. Though dependent on 24-hour home care, friends and family say his mind remained sharp. At the age of 111, he still walked, and took no regular medication stronger than aspirin. Overton has credited “God and cigars” for his longevity, telling HISTORY in 2016 he still smoked about 12 a day, but that he never inhaled.

Richard Overton smoking a cigar with a few neighborhood friends Donna Shorts and Martin Wilford in Austin, Texas, 2015.

America’s oldest veteran had hardscrabble origins. Descended from slaves who toiled on the Nashville, Tennessee, plantation of Judge John Overton (a close friend to President Andrew Jackson), his newly freed ancestors moved en masse from Tennessee to Texas following the Civil War. Around four decades later, on …read more


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