By: Gabriel E. Miller
Richard Arvin Overton was the oldest living World War 2 veteran and the oldest man in America at the extraordinary age of 112. He passed away in Texas on Thursday night due to his battle with pneumonia that put him in the hospital.
Overton was born on May 11, 1906 in St. Mary’s Bastrop County and later enlisted in the United States Army during the 1940s (different sources write he either he enlisted in 1940 or 1942). He served in the 188th Aviation Engineer Battalion, which was an all-black unit that served in various operations in the Pacific theatre. During a Veteran’s Day ceremony at the Arlington National Cemetery in 2013, former President Barrack Obama, honored Overton for his military achievements. The following Monday, Obama said, “To see one of the oldest living veterans of World War 2 bear witness to a day, to the progress of a nation that he thought might never come.” This referred to the time period where the United States was still under strict segregation laws.
During that 2013 ceremony, it was noted that Overton was in Pearl Harbor after the attack. He served in combat at Okinawa, and Iwo Jima.
Overton told NPR, “It was difficult. I’ve never done that before. Uncle Sam called me in. And I went there, and I had to do it.”
Regarding Overton’s time during the war, he told NPR that he was grateful to have not gotten home with any major injuries. He said, “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.”
During the interview with the Austin American-Statesman he said that during one of the assaults, “We got in the foxholes, and bullets were coming over our heads.” He had also mentioned that he tries to forget about what he saw, but remembers removing bodies from battlefields and surviving through heavy enemy suppression of friendly forces.
Overton had been honorably discharged as a technician fifth grade. He then went on to live in the house he built for over 70 years. He worked in some furniture stores and then at the state treasurer’s office when Ann Richards, a former Texas Governor, ran the agency.
Richard A. Overton was a very well-known member of his community. He was known for smoking his cigars, drinking his whiskey, and sitting out on the porch giving a warm greeting as they passed by him. Part of the street, according to KUT, where he lived was named after him. Overton’s birthday was also known as “Richard A. Overton Day”, as proclaimed by the Austin City Council.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said that Overton “made us proud to be Texans and proud to be Americans.”