Amanda Macias

An afternoon in Austin with America's oldest gentleman and WW2 veteran

Amanda Macias
An afternoon in Austin with America's oldest gentleman and WW2 veteran

AUSTIN — Walking up the crooked path to his home in an East Austin neighborhood, I stop to admire the oversized posters and banners lining the front porch.

One reads "Happy 111th Birthday Mr. Overton!"

Others show Overton at the White House with President Obama, meeting with U.S. Army top brass, and gesturing the notable "Hook 'em Horns" hand signal at a University of Texas football game.

I ring the bell and am warmly ushered into the modest living room.

I'm here to meet the oldest man in America.

A man that was born before tanks and airplanes were used in war. A man that was born before five states became states. A man that remembers both World War I and World War II.

In 1918, Richard Arvine Overton was nearly a teenager when the U.S. decided to recognize November 11th as Veterans Day.

At 111 years old, Overton is a supercentenarian, and the oldest verified World War II veteran. 

Sitting alongside a wall of windows in a worn tan armchair is where I found Overton. After lighting his third cigar of the day, he smiles up at me as we are introduced.

"Nice to meet ya ma'am," he says while reaching for my hand.

He is surrounded by members of his extended family and a nurse who excuses herself to make him a sandwich. 

I glance around the room and take note of a portrait of Overton and various commemorative plaques lining his wood paneled walls.

A portrait gifted to Richard Overton on his 110th birthday by a fellow veteran.

A portrait gifted to Richard Overton on his 110th birthday by a fellow veteran.

"So, how are you feeling today?" I ask.

"I don't know, I got weak last night. I guess when you get up to be around 111 you get weak," Overton jokes.

He's wearing a peach button-down shirt with brown slacks, a black World War II veteran hat and bulky New Balance tennis shoes. He seems thankful and comfortable.

"I'm doing fine. Every time they [doctors] come it's the same thing. They can't find nothing. It's because I know how to take care of myself." 

"I've got my good health and as long as I have my good health I'll keep dancing," he adds.

Three months prior, Overton was admitted to a local hospital to undergo treatment for his third bout of pneumonia. After fighting pneumonia, which was found in both lungs, Overton returned home to rest in lieu of going to a care facility.

"We gotta keep him in this house," his cousin Volma Overton tells me. "Moving him out of this house is what's going to put him in the grave."

Which is why his family set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for Overton's in-home care.

After World War II, Overton came to Austin and built the home he resides in today.

"I paid $4,000 for this house in 1945," he says while pointing to an original photo of the home on the wall.

A framed photograph of Richard Overton's home hangs on the wall of his house in Austin, Texas on November 4, 2017.

A framed photograph of Richard Overton's home hangs on the wall of his house in Austin, Texas on November 4, 2017.

"I ain't trying to move, this is where I sit and rest."

"What's your routine like?" I ask.

"Oh, I just rest. I sit around and rest."

"I count my nickels," he laughs.

Overton admits he doesn't have much of a routine because his sleep pattern is so irregular.

"I get up when I get up. Could be 3 or 4 in the morning."

"I get up most nights and smoke a cigar or two and then go back to bed," he adds.

Richard Overton smokes a cigar in his home in Austin, Texas on November 4, 2017.

Richard Overton smokes a cigar in his home in Austin, Texas on November 4, 2017.

I pick up one of the five packs of Tampa Sweet cigars next to his armchair.

"I started smoking these cigars since I was 18 years old. I don't inhale them all I do is smoke 'em and blow the smoke out. I never swallow the smoke."

Overton, who smokes over a dozen cigars a day also laces his morning coffee with Jack Daniel's.

"These are my best friends since everyone else keeps on leaving me," he laughs.

"Do you miss the military?" I ask.

"Oh sure, but the war wasn't no fun. You never know what's coming and you never know what's going."

A photo of Richard Overton in his military uniform against a folded American flag.

A photo of Richard Overton in his military uniform against a folded American flag.

"Do you remember Pearl Harbor?"

"So much. What do you want to know?" he says lighting another cigar.

Overton, who was born in Bastrop County in 1906, began his military career with the U.S. Army on September 3, 1940, at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

He arrived immediately after the devastating surprise attack by Japanese forces on Pearl Harbor and like the rest of the nation, Overton was thrust into World War II.

He served in the Pacific Theater with the Army’s segregated 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalion from 1942 to 1945.

"I think about war every day. It runs across my mind every day," he says with a nod.

"I remember World War I too, I wasn't old enough to fight but I remember things."

Overton held a series of jobs in the military, including burial detail, base security and as a driver for a Lieutenant.

After the war, Overton spent the rest of his career working at the Texas Department of Treasury in Austin.

I wrap up our visit by asking him what he will do on Veterans Day.

"Oh, I'll be right in front. You'll see me."