America’s oldest vet is turning 109, he celebrated with cigars and burgers
How does America’s oldest veteran celebrate his 109th birthday? With cigars, burgers and milkshakes, of course.
Richard Overton (l) smokes a cigar with neighborhood friends Donna Shorts and Martin Wilford on May 3 in Austin, Tex. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American Statesman via AP)
By Elahe Izadi
World War II veteran and Austin resident Richard Overton celebrated at an outdoor party on Sunday, surrounded by neighbors, friends and local dignitaries who lit up cigars and wished him well, local media reported.
The soon-to-be 109-year-old (his birthday is May 11) still tends to his lawn and drives his car, the Wall Street Journal reported. He’s also been known to drive widows to church.
The East Austin resident is a fan of cigars and whiskey, although he partakes of the latter only occasionally now.
Overton chatted with The Post in November and had this to say when asked about his longevity: “You have to ask God about that. He brought me here and he’s taking care of me, and nothing I can do about it,” later adding, “I can talk about what he’s doing for me.”
He celebrates his birthday every year with a party in his yard. But this time, neighbor Helen Elliot organized a party at her home, which was sponsored by Mighty Fine Burgers, Fries and Shakes. The theme: Mighty Fine at 109.
“He’s just the coolest neighbor on the planet,” Elliot told Fox affiliate KTBC. “He’s so much fun and always has the best stories.”
A lot of folks showed up, including Austin Mayor Steve Adler. “You are just one of the treasures that we have in this city,” Adler told Overton.
Overton, born in 1906 in Texas, served in the Pacific Theater from 1942 to 1945 as part of the all-Black 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalion.
“War’s nothing to be into,” Overton told USA Today in 2013. “You don’t want to go into the war if you don’t have to. But I had to go. I enjoyed it after I’d went and come back, but I didn’t enjoy it when I was over there. I had to do things I didn’t want to do.”
Upon returning from the war, he worked at an Austin furniture store. He told the Statesman that he first retired at age 65, but that he kept being asked to come back and was hired four more times. “I got near 100 and finally quit,” he said. “They still wanted me back.”
Overton — who has said he never thought the country would have a Black President — met President Obama in 2013 at Arlington National Cemetery. The President then made special mention of Overton during his remarks.
“When the war ended, Richard headed home to Texas to a nation bitterly divided by race,” Obama said in 2013. “And his service on the battle-field was not always matched by the respect that he deserved at home. But this veteran held his head high. He carried on and lived his life with honor and dignity.”
All of the attention has come as a welcome surprise to Overton, who told WSJ, “I never thought I would be that important.”
He’s become a staple at local veteran and civic events over the years. Overton served as the grand marshal in Austin’s Veteran’s Day Parade in November. One of his more recent honors came from the Austin Community College, which gave him an honorary degree in December.
“He sacrificed his own opportunities to attend college when he enlisted,” ACC President Richard Rhodes said at the time. “This is truly a well-deserved honor.”
Overton continues to marvel at his many years.
“To think I’d be older than
every solider in the Union? You believe that? I didn’t ever think that,” he told KTBC. “This is a long trip and it ain’t through
Elahe Izadi is a general assignment national re-porter for The Washington Post.