America's Oldest WWII Veteran, Who Credited His Long Life to Whiskey and Cigars, Dies at 112

Playing Richard Overton, Oldest WWII Veteran in U.S., Dies at 112

Richard Overton, the nation's oldest World War II veteran who once credited his longevity to whiskey and cigars, has died at the age of 112.

Overton, who was also believed to be the oldest living man in the U.S., passed away at a rehab facility in Austin, Texas, on Thursday after a battle with pneumonia, a family member said. He'd been hospitalized but was released on Christmas Eve.

"They had done all they could," Shirley Overton, who is married to Overton's cousin, told The Associated Press.

Overton was born on a farm in Bastrop County, just outside Austin, in 1906. He enlisted in the Army during WWII and served in the all-black 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalion, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

He served in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945, traveling to Iwo Jima, Guam, Hawaii and Okinawa. While he saw enemy fire, he returned home without a scratch.

Back in Texas, he worked at a local furniture store and the Texas Department of the Treasury in Austin, where he remained until he was nearly 100 years old, according to the VA.

In 2013, President Obama honored Overton at a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery after they enjoyed a breakfast together at the White House.

"He was there at Pearl Harbor, when the battleships were still smoldering," Obama said of Overton. "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.'"

Richard Overton honored at the age of 110
Overton is pictured in March 2017, when he was honored at a Memphis Grizzlies vs. San Antonio Spurs game. Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

Overton once said whiskey and cigars were among his secrets to a long life. In an interview with the Austin-American Statesman ahead of his 111th birthday in 2017, he said he hoped to get whiskey for his birthday.

"I like any kind you’ll bring me," he said.

On Thursday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called Overton "an American icon and Texas legend."

"With his quick wit and kind spirit he touched the lives of so many, and I am deeply honored to have known him," Abbott said. "Richard Overton made us proud to be Texans and proud to be Americans. We can never repay Richard Overton for his service to our nation and for his lasting impact on the Lone Star State."

Overton, who would have been 113 on May 11, outlived six sisters, three brothers, his wife and ex-wife. He never had children.

He will be buried in the Texas State Cemetery, his third cousin, Volma Overton, told the Dallas News. Funeral arrangements have not yet been made.

"We are thankful for everything he's done for the family, for the world," Volma told the newspaper. "We're going to miss him."

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