Richard Overton, 112, America’s Oldest World War II Veteran, Dies

Richard Overton, the nation’s oldest World War II veteran, died on Thursday at a rehabilitation facility near his home in Austin, Tex. He was 112.

His death was confirmed by Shirley Overton, whose husband was Mr. Overton’s cousin and his longtime caretaker. She said he had been hospitalized with pneumonia but was released on Christmas Eve.

Mr. Overton was in his 30s when he volunteered for the Army and was at Pearl Harbor just after the Japanese attack in 1941. He served in the all-black 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalion in the Pacific Theater.

Mr. Overton told The Austin American-Statesman in 2013 that combat helped his segregated unit gain acceptance.

“When we got out in the war, we were all together,” he said. “There wasn’t no discrimination there. We were hugging each other — darn near kissing each other.” Lives depended on it, he said.

After the war Mr. Overton returned to Austin, where he worked in a furniture store and as a courier at the state Capitol before retiring in his 80s.

Mr. Overton once said that one secret to his long life was smoking cigars and drinking whiskey, which he was often found doing on the porch of his home in Austin. In recent years his birthday drew national attention, and strangers would stop by his house to meet him.

In 2013 he met President Barack Obama at the White House, and Mr. Obama honored him at a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

“He was there at Pearl Harbor, when the battleships were still smoldering,” Mr. Obama said of Mr. Overton. “He was there at Okinawa. He was there at Iwo Jima, where he said, ‘I only got out of there by the grace of God.’ ”

“When the war ended, Richard headed home to Texas to a nation bitterly divided by race,” he continued. “And his service on the battlefield was not always matched by the respect that he deserved at home. But this veteran held his head high. He carried on and lived his life with honor and dignity.”

Mr. Overton was born on May 11, 1906, near Austin. His grandfather was a slave in Tennessee who moved to Texas after emancipation, and Mr. Overton grew up amid the indignities and inequality of the segregated South.

Mr. Overton was married twice but had no children. Information about survivors was not immediately available.

He remained active until recently. This year he took a private tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.

The Austin City Council recognized Mr. Overton’s contributions to the state and country by proclaiming a day in his honor and ceremonially renaming the street he lived on after him.

In a statement on Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas called him “an American icon and Texas legend,” adding, “Richard Overton made us proud to be Texans and proud to be Americans.”

The New York Times contributed reporting.

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