Born on May 11, 1906, Richard Overton (Richard Arvin Overton Biography) was a World War II veteran who served in the U.S. Army. Overton was the grandson of a slave and grew up in one of America’s darkest periods. In his lifetime, he witnessed the repeal of Jim Crow laws, the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the election of the first black president of the United States.
Military records show that Overton enlisted in the Army on September 3, 1942, at age 36, nine months after the United States had entered World War II. Serving with the all-black 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalion, he would eventually be shipped off to the Pacific Theater, apparently arriving in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, his unit’s first overseas stop, the day after a series of accidental explosions sunk several ships and killed or wounded hundreds of men. (This incident, which occurred two-and-a-half years after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, would become known as the West Loch disaster.) Overton’s battalion later helped wrest control of Angaur, in the Palau islands, from the Japanese, and also made its way to Guam.
Richard B. Frank, an Asia-Pacific War historian, explained that most African-Americans were forced into service support units during World War II, and that the principal job of Overton’s battalion “would have been the building or maintenance of airfields.” The Library of Congress reported that Overton likewise served on burial detail, as base security, and as a jeep driver for a lieutenant. He saw combat as well, however, and was recognized by the Army for his expert marksmanship with a rifle.
Between 1940-1945, he toured the South Pacific — the last three of those years with the 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalion — and achieved a technician fifth grade rank by the end of his military service.
On May 3, 2016, he became the oldest living American war veteran after fellow World War II veteran Frank Levingston of Louisiana died. Overton became a supercentenarian on May 11, 2016. He died of pneumonia on December 27, 2018.
Richard Arvin Overton Full Biography and Profile
Richard Arvin Overton was born on May 11, 1906, in Bastrop County, Texas, about an hour outside of Austin. Overton was the grandson of a slave and grew up in one of America’s darkest periods. He witnessed the repeal of Jim Crow laws, the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the election of the first black president of the United States.
Overton was born before Henry Ford introduced the Model T, before the Titanic embarked on her doomed maiden voyage and before New Yorkers watched the first ball drop in Times Square.
The supercentenarian, known for smoking Tampa Sweet cigars and lacing his morning coffee with Jack Daniel’s, would often joke that these two items were his “best friends.”
“These are my best friends since everyone else keeps on leaving me,” Overton told CNBC. “I started smoking these cigars since I was 18 years old,” he said. “I don’t inhale them. All I do is smoke ’em and blow the smoke out. I never swallow the smoke,” added Overton, who smoked more than 12 cigars a day.
Within the last two years, Overton fought several bouts of pneumonia, but aside from that, his family said he was in good health.
“Fortunately, Richard isn’t in a major need of anything. He only takes a few pills and hasn’t really had a major health problem,” Overton’s cousin, Volma, said last year.
“I’ve got my good health, and as long as I have my good health I’ll keep dancing,” Overton said.
Richard Arvin Overton World War II Military Career
Overton began his military career with the U.S. Army on September 3, 1940 at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. In December 1941, he was sent to Hawaii where he arrived at Pearl Harbor with his black segregated unit immediately after the bombing by the Japanese. Like the rest of the nation, Overton was thrust into World War II. Between 1940-1945, he toured the South Pacific — the last three of those years with the 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalion — and achieved a technician fifth grade rank by the end of his military service.
Richard Arvin Overton served in the Pacific Theater with the Army’s segregated 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalion from 1942 to 1945. He held a series of jobs in the military, including burial detail, base security and driver for an officer.
Recognition of Richard Arvin Overton as a Supercentenarian
In 2015 National Geographic released a short documentary eponymously entitled Mr. Overton, who was 106 at the time of filming.
Among his other accolades, Overton was honored by the San Antonio Spurs with a custom-made jersey in March 2017. A few months later when he celebrated his 111th birthday on May 11th, his community renamed the street he’s lived on for seven decades as Richard Overton Avenue.
“111, that’s pretty old, ain’t it,” Overton said at his birthday luncheon at the University of Texas club. “I can still get around, I can still talk, I can still see, I can still walk.”
Austin’s mayor also officially designated his birthday as Richard Overton Day. Previously, the World War II vet was honored by President Barack Obama during a Veteran’s Day ceremony in 2013.
Honor Flight Austin
Overton did not gain widespread recognition, however, until coming to the attention of Allen Bergeron, chairman of Honor Flight Austin, a nonprofit that flies veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials built in their honor. “I got his address and drove to his house, and there he was sitting on his front porch with his World War II hat on,” Bergeron recalled.
The two became friends, and in May 2013 Honor Flight Austin brought the then 107-year-old on his first-ever trip to Washington, where, according to Bergeron, he was so blown away by the beauty of the World War II and Martin Luther King Jr. memorials that he started crying.
On the same trip, as they passed by Arlington National Cemetery, Bergeron overheard Overton mumbling to himself, “God bless those soldiers. How come them? How come I came home? Why me?”
By then somewhat of a media sensation, Overton returned to Washington that Veterans Day for breakfast at the White House with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. He also rode in the presidential motorcade to Arlington National Cemetery, where Obama gave a ceremonial speech singling him out for praise.
“When the war ended, Richard headed home to Texas, to a nation bitterly divided by race, and his service on the battlefield was not always matched by the respect that he deserved at home,” Obama said. “But this veteran held his head high.”
Thousands of people donated to cover his home care costs, and the Home Depot Foundation and Meals on Wheels Central Texas renovated his house for free after a plug melted into an outlet and nearly caused a fire. He even received air conditioning for the first time. Back at home after a bout with pneumonia in 2016, Overton said, “I’m still living and doing good.” And, with that, he returned to what he liked best: cigars and schmoozing.
Richard Arvin Overton Life as a Civilian
After the war, Overton returned to Texas and established his life in Austin where he worked in a variety of furniture stores before finding employment at the Texas Department of the Treasury. He was married twice, never had children and outlived his closest relatives.
The home he lived in until his death was the same house which he built 70 years ago. He spent most of his time smoking his Tampa Sweet cigars — an average of 12 per day — and drinking whiskey (sometimes mixed with coffee, other times with Coke) on his front porch. Eager to see the sun rise, his days sometimes began at 3 a.m.
Richard Arvin Overton Health Issues
As Overton’s health declined in recent years, his remaining living relatives launched a GoFundMe page in late 2016, so that the war veteran could live his days in the comfort of his home, rather than in an assisted living facility. Since November 2017 they had surpassed their $200K goal and along with donations from the Home Depot and Meals on Wheels, Overton had been able to have 24-hour care and a renovated home that offered him better accessibility and comfort.
Death of Richard Arvin Overton
Richard Arvin Overton, America’s oldest World War II veteran and the third-oldest man in the world, died Thursday December 27, 2018 afternoon from pneumonia. He was 112 years old.
Richard Arvin Overton Secret to Living a Long Life
When asked what his secret is to living a long life, Overton simply replied that he had none. “I don’t have a secret,” he told People. I am here because the man upstairs wants me to be here… He put me here, and he decides when it’s my time to go.”
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