(Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
For his first 107 or so years, Richard Overton enjoyed a fairly quiet existence. Born on May 11, 1906, the oldest-living World War II veteran remains in the same Austin, Texas, home he purchased after his military service. Most days, he sat on his front porch, where he enjoyed a daily Tampa Sweet cigar and a shot of whiskey (his two secrets to long life).
But then things started getting interesting for the man who served in the Pacific as part of the all-black 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalion. During a visit to Washington, D.C., in 2013, the media referred to him as the oldest-living veteran (something that actually wasn’t true until 2016). That reference put the spotlight squarely on Overton.
President Barack Obama invited him to the White House. Texas Gov. Rick Perry stopped by with some whiskey. And a long line of people started showing up at his home, just to say hello or take a selfie. On his 111th birthday, Austin Mayor Steve Adler gave the street he has lived on for decades the honorary name of Richard Overton Avenue.
And that’s not all. Late last week, Overton commented to one of his visitors that he’d love to one day tour the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. The following morning, this grandson of a slave and a few close friends found themselves on their way to the nation’s capital aboard a private jet. They got their own special tour of the museum before it opened to the public. While there, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is on the museum board, called Overton to welcome him.
According to the Washington Post, the tour was made possible by billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist Robert Smith, who donated $20 million to the museum. A mutual friend, Allen Bergeron, introduced Smith and Overton, who talked for hours over a lunch of fried catfish. When Overton mentioned his desire to visit the museum, Smith replied, “What are you all doing this weekend?”
And that was that.
On Sunday, Overton said it was meaningful for him to see the museum and its displays showing African American history over the years.
“All of it is important,” he told the Post. “I’d seen some of it before, but I’ve never seen it all at once.”
Overton enlisted in the U.S. Army in September 1942 at Fort Sam Houston. He served in the South Pacific from 1942 through 1945, in Hawaii, Okinawa, Guam and Iwo Jima. He married twice — he and his first wife divorced in the 1920s and his second wife died in the 1980s. He has no children, and his third cousin, Volma Overton Jr., one of his last remaining relatives, helps look out for him.
Last year, Overton Jr. launched a GoFundMe campaign that so far has raised more than $226,000 to cover around-the-clock in-home care for Overton. The goal is to avoid putting him in a nursing home. Overton Jr. said the family has been blown away by the massive response.
“His front porch is a special place. He always sits there and waves to people and everyone just comes by and talks to him,” Overton Jr. told ABC News at the time. "We all knew that if you move Richard out of his home, he'd die. That home is everything for him."