AUSTIN, TEXAS (KXAN) — Richard Overton, the oldest World War II veteran, has died at the age of 112.
He had been admitted to the hospital last week with pneumonia and went to a rehab facility Monday.
“We’re truly gonna miss him,” said his cousin Volma Overton Jr. “He was the joy of our days.”
Overton was born on May 11, 1906, in Bastrop County. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in September 1942 at Fort Sam Houston near San Antonio. Overton served in the South Pacific from 1942 through 1945, serving in Hawaii, Okinawa, Guam and Iwo Jima.
Military records show Overton buried fellow soldiers, served as base security and drove a Jeep for a lieutenant while stationed overseas.\
Skills he learned as a young man helped when he joined the Army, as he already knew how to shoot.
“I always liked to hunt,” Overton said in a 2013 interview with the Veterans History Project, a part of the Library of Congress, when he was 107 years old. He then told a story of how when trainers learned a recruit could shoot, they would set up targets on a bluff to test their accuracy.
While in the Pacific Theater, he was involved in gun battles against the Japanese, having to take cover in foxholes to keep from getting hit.
“One day I was in the foxhole, and I put a rock in front of me, and a bullet hit that rock,” Overton said. “It… hit in the hole. And I grabbed it, see, that thing was so hot.”
Overton says he learned an important lesson that day: always use dirt to hide yourself in a fox hole. Otherwise, the bullet can ricochet.
After time overseas, Overton found out he was returning home while writing a letter. He retired from the Army in October 1945, with the rank of Corporal.
He returned to Texas, working as a furniture salesman and for the Texas Treasury Department (now the Texas Comptroller’s office) in Austin. He retired in 1985 as a courier.
He lived in the same east Austin house he built after World War II.
Overton celebrated his 100th birthday in 2006, with friends, family and KXAN there. He told us then he loved whiskey, women and smoking 12 cigars a day.
But he didn’t let his age stop him.
Overton continued driving, smoking cigars, drinking whiskey and attending church several times a week into his old age.
In 2013, Overton traveled to Washington, D.C. twice. The first trip, in May, was an Honor Flightwith nearly three dozen other World War II veterans to visit the National World War II Memorial.
Six months later, President Obama invited Overton to spend Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery, where he was greeted with two standing ovations.
“Today, Richard still lives in the house he built all those years ago, rakes his own lawn and every Sunday, he hops in his 1971 Ford truck and drives one of nice ladies in his neighborhood to church,” President Obama said during the 2013 ceremony. “So, this is the life of one American veteran living proud and strong in the land he helped keep free.”
In November 2015, Overton spent about a week, including Veterans Day, at St. David’s Medical Center in central Austin battling pneumonia.
“He wants to let everyone know he will be just fine,” family friend Martin Wilford said at the time.
Overton recovered, but after reaching 110 years old, he needed around the clock in-home care. Overton’s family wanted him to stay in his home and receive the care; however in-home care is not covered by VA benefits.
After asking for help, people across the country donated nearly $200,000 to help pay for Overton’s care.
Before his death, Overton was asked several times how to live a long, healthy life.
“I’d ask them to stay busy and talk to the Lord and live with the Lord,” Overton said. “Don’t live with the people. Live with the Lord. Let Him take care of you.”