Today is the 112th birthday of Richard Overton, America’s oldest living WWII veteran.

Richard Overton

Happy Birthday Richard Overton!

The grandson of a slave is now America’s oldest living World War II veteran. Richard Overton lives in Austin and turned 112 today, May 11th. He retired 25 years ago at the young age of 85, after spending decades working two jobs—one as a courier and the other in a furniture store. Overton is also thought to be the third oldest man in the entire world. He has outlived nearly everyone in his entire family.

For his 109th birthday, he celebrated by having burgers and milkshakes and smoked a few cigars. Incredibly, he was still driving and mowing his own lawn.  While he could move to an assisted living home, relatives are trying to keep him in his own home where he has lived comfortably for so very long.

Richard Overton finally gets his wish.

Overton finally received an honor that was long overdue—he got to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

You see, Richard Overton is very jovial and popular, and since his retirement, he’s had a steady stream of visitors to his home. They sit out on the front porch, sipping tea, and soaking in Overton’s words of wisdom. During one such visit, he mentioned to a friend that he sure would like to visit that museum “in the District.”

In April, his wish came true. Overton soon found himself and a few friends aboard a private jet headed to Washington, D.C. He was given a private tour of the museum he had longed to see—and he said he enjoyed every bit of it. Overton truly got the celebrity treatment he deserved. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell serves on the museum board and phoned Overton to welcome him.

Overton and His Buddy, Barack

Richard Overton

Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson – https://www.flickr.com/photos/whitehouse/10811751293/
President Barack Obama greets Richard Overton, with Earlene Love-Karo, in the Blue Room of the White House, Nov. 11, 2013. Mr. Overton, 107 years old and the oldest living World War II veteran, attended the Veteran’s Day Breakfast at the White House.

He said it was incredibly meaningful to see the African American story told over time, from slavery to present day. Overton said he’d seen some of the history, but that seeing it all at once was amazing. In particular, Overton expressed tremendous pride about Barack Obama being elected as the first African American president. Overton had the great fortune of meeting President Barack Obama at the White House. At the museum that day, onlookers definitely noticed that Overton sat taller in his wheelchair when he came to the Obama exhibit. “Yes, sir! That’s my friend,” Overton exclaimed.

Richard Overton and History

Richard Overton 1940s

Richard Overton during military service in the 1940s. CC, WikiMedia Commons U.S. Military

Overton was born a Texan on May 11, 1906. As a young man, he served in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945. He was a proud member of the 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalion, an all-black regiment, and served as a sharpshooter in Pearl Harbor and Okinawa.

As a boy, Overton remembers listening to his grandfather’s tales of being a slave in Tennessee. When he was freed after the Civil War, Overton’s granddad settled his family in Texas.

So just how did the museum visit happen? Like so many opportunities in life, Overton’s fortune came by way of the “friend of a friend” route.

Allen Bergeron is a longtime friend of Overton’s and met him via the Austin Military Veterans Program. Bergeron knew of Overton’s desire to visit the museum, and as luck would have it, Bergeron also happens to be friends with one of the largest donors to the museum, billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist Robert Smith—he donated $20 million to the museum fund.

Bergeron had tried to organize a meeting between the two men for years and finally made it happen. He arranged a meeting on a Friday evening whereby Smith visited Overton in his home. As the two swapped war stories and ate a catfish dinner, Smith asked Overton if he had any plans for the weekend.

The rest, as they say, is (truly) history.

Overton’s secret to long life? Cigars. Whiskey. And speaking his mind, which he did at the museum. He said, “I don’t see my name up there” when visiting the museum’s World War II exhibit. His friends laughed and Overton responded by saying, “Don’t worry. One of these days it will be.”

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