Speed Reads

Rest in peace

Richard Overton, the oldest U.S. World War II vet and a cigar-and-whiskey folk hero, dies in Austin at 112

Richard Overton, the oldest U.S. war veteran who was also believed to be the oldest living American male, died Thursday at age 112. Overton, a longtime resident of Austin, Texas, had been hospitalized with pneumonia on Dec. 12, and he was moved from a hospital to a rehabilitation facility on Monday. "They had done all they could," said Shirley Overton, a cousin by marriage.

Overton was born near Austin on May 11, 1906, and he volunteered to serve in the Army in his 30s. He was at Pearl Harbor just after the Japanese attacked in 1941, bringing the U.S. into World War II. "He was there at Pearl Harbor, when the battleships were still smoldering," former President Barack Obama said in 2013 while honoring Overton during a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. "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.'"

On Thursday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said he was "deeply honored to have known" the "American icon and Texas legend," adding, "Richard Overton made us proud to be Texans and proud to be Americans." "He's a damn rock star," his third cousin, Volma Overton, said at his latest birthday in May. "And he knows it. He kind of rides that a little bit."

Overton gained his celebrity late in life. Until he turned 100 in 2006, he lived the life of a regular retiree, sitting on the porch of his Austin house, often smoking a cigar and drinking a whiskey and coke. After Obama honored him, people began stopping by his house and his birthday party became big block parties. He often attributed his long life and good health to the whiskey and 12 daily cigars, but when comedian Steve Harvey asked his secret, he said: "Just keep living, don't die."

Overton outlived his wife, an ex-wife, and his six sisters and three brothers. He never had kids.