Born in 1906, Richard Overton's life spanned 20 U.S. presidents, and up until his death Thursday, the 112-year-old was believed to have been the oldest living man in the U.S. and the oldest World War II veteran.
The grandson of a slave, Overton volunteered for the U.S. Army when he was in his 30s, and he was part of the all-black 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalion that served on several Pacific islands.
"He was there at Pearl Harbor when the battleships were still smoldering. 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,'” said then-President Barack Obama while honoring Overton at a Veterans Day ceremony in 2013.
Born in Texas, Overton returned home to Austin after serving his country and lived a fairly low-key life — at least until he got into his 100s and others began realizing his deep history. Then, people began stopping by his home, just to have the privilege of talking with him — often on his front porch, according to the Washington Post.
"With his quick wit and kind spirit he touched the lives of so many,” said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
Overton once attributed his longevity to smoking cigars and drinking whiskey. “I still walk, I still talk and I still drive,” he told a crew that filmed a short documentary on him three years ago. In the film, he also bragged about renewing his driver’s license and passing the eye exam.
“I’ve seen lots and lots of living, but I’m still living good. I ain’t suffered or nothing. I get what I want, so I’m still living alright,” he told the filmmakers.
In April, Overton mentioned that he would love to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the next day a group of people made the trip possible for him and he was off to Washington, D.C., according to the Post. “I’d seen some of it before, but I’ve never seen it all at once,” he said following the tour. “All of it is important.”
Overton’s death came days after he was hospitalized with pneumonia. “They had done all they could,” said Shirley Overton, whose husband was the veteran’s cousin and longtime caregiver.