What a character…would love to meet him.
Even at 108 years old, Richard Overton says he still likes to meet new people and “look at something different” when he can. One of his birthday wishes this year was to pay his first visit to the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg.
On the cusp of his 109th birthday, Overton received a hero’s welcome Thursday as he arrived at the museum. A small crowd clapped and cheered as Overton arrived, and many rushed forward to shake his hand.
It’s not every day one gets to meet the man believed to be America’s oldest living World War II veteran.
To the delight of the crowd, Overton chose to walk with little assistance as he made his way into the museum before accepting a wheelchair — not all that surprising considering the centenarian still drives, does yard work, smokes a dozen cigars a day and partakes in the occasional splash of whiskey.
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When asked about the key to his longevity, Overton laughed and said there’s no secret: “I just try to make it another year,” he said.
Thursday’s visit was special for Overton, who served in the Pacific Theater from 1942 to 1945 in the all-black 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalion. His tour included stops in Hawaii, Guam, Peleliu and Iwo Jima.
Overton was taken on a guided tour of the museum, where he watched a video of the attack of Pearl Harbor, saw a B-25 bomber and other aircraft and looked at the vast offering of World War II artifacts at the museum.
Allen Bergeron, chairman of Honor Flight Austin, visited the museum with Overton on Thursday. Bergeron said they met after he received a call about two years ago from someone who said a 106-year-old veteran attended their church.
“I said, ‘No way,’” Bergeron said. “I went to his house in East Austin, and he was sitting on his front porch in his World War II hat, smoking a cigar.”
Bergeron said he checks in on Overton every few weeks, and they usually smoke some cigars together.
Despite his age, Overton is still sharp, Bergeron said. A favorite blue lighter, tucked absentmindedly into Bergeron’s pocket after lighting a cigar during one visit, was still on Overton’s mind after a week.
“He goes, do you still have my Bic lighter?” Bergeron said.
Overton showed this same sharpness of mind Thursday during his tour.
His face lit up as his wheelchair was pushed in front of an exhibit of artifacts from Guam, remembering that he “fought on that island.” As Overton moved through the museum, certain objects jogged his memories — a jeep “just about the same” as the ones he drove, an American anti-aircraft gun used to guard the airfields that reminded him of the rifles he shot, a photo of an attack cargo ship.
“A lot of it’s coming back to me,” Overton said. “I hope the war doesn’t come back.”
Someone joked that if it did, they would send him to fight it.
“I’ll do my best,” Overton said, smiling.
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