Richard Overton celebrated his 112th birthday on May 11, 2018. This in itself is remarkable, but Overton is more than one of the oldest men in the world. He's also America's oldest living veteran.
The birthday celebration started a month earlier, after Overton spoke with Austin businessman Robert F. Smith. The centenarian mentioned that he wanted to see the recently opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Smith, who had donated approximately $20 million to the museum, flew Overton to visit on a private jet. There, Overton was greeted by former secretary of state Colin Powell and treated to a private tour.
A life of experience
Many people never fly privately in their lifetimes, let alone get to avoid the crowds at a Smithsonian museum. Yet, Overton's done a lot more in life than most. He's visited the White House several times and met numerous people of influence, including comedian Steve Harvey and former president Barack Obama.
The secret to his age? Overton credits his love of cigars, whiskey, coffee, fried catfish and butter pecan ice cream. He also refuses to think about death.
"I don't think about [dying]," he said on the TODAY Show in 2014, according to an NBC News article. "You can't do anything about that. It's going to come, whether you want it or not. I just think about living."
Overton celebrated his 112th birthday proper with a block party. The event wasn't unusual; he lives on a street in East Austin, Texas, named after him, and people often visit after hearing his story. The frequent guests don't seem to bother him.
Buying it in the 1940s for $4,500, Overton's lived in his home for more than 70 years. Per USA Today, his home underwent several repairs provided by Austin Energy, Home Depot and Meals on Wheels to make his home more accessible, adding heat and air conditioning, fixing the plumbing and wiring, and bringing the house up to code.
As for his daily life, Overton's various family members help him often. Additionally, thanks to online fundraising, he's able to live independently with round-the-clock health care. Overton is surprisingly mobile for a man in his second century of life. Per the NBC article, he was still driving and tending to his lawn at age 109. His veteran's benefits would allow him to stay in an assisted-living facility, but Volma Overton, his 70-year-old cousin and caregiver, thinks the experience would be bad for him.
"His front porch is his everything," Ms. Overton told the Washington Post. "It's his throne. He's outlived almost everybody in his family."
A family legacy
Overton's grandfather was a slave in Tennessee. After receiving his freedom, he moved to Texas to set roots. Overton himself was born May 11, 1906 in Bastrop County, Texas. He forwent college to join the U.S. Army at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. He served in the Pacific Theater from 1942 to 1945 as part of the all-black 1887th engineer aviation battalion. As part of his service, Overton was stationed in Palau, Guam, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Overton retired in 1945 as a corporal technician fifth grade. He received the Expert Rifle Marksmanship Badge, a Meritorious Unit Commendation and the American Campaign Medal, among other distinctions.
Yet it wasn't until 2013 that Overton gained a bit of fame. Two East Austin filmmakers, Matt Cooper and Rocky Conly, began filming a documentary about his day-to-day life. Overton quickly became a nationwide sensation, and he plans to keep living with the same jovial attitude.