Richard Overton, America's oldest World War II veteran and the oldest man in the US, dies aged 112

Richard Overton, America's oldest World War II veteran and the oldest man in the US, dies aged 112

Richard Overton, who was the oldest man in the United States, passed away on Thursday at the age of 112. The death was confirmed by family member Shirley Overton, who revealed he had been in hospital battling pneumonia.

Overton was also the oldest living World War II veteran in the country, for which he was celebrated in a speech by former President Barack Obama in 2013.

He volunteered to join the army in 1942, joining the 188th Aviation Engineer Battalion, an all-black unit that served across various Pacific islands. In his speech at a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, Obama said of Overton:

"He was there at Pearl Harbor when the battleships were still smouldering. 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.'

"When the war ended, Richard headed home to Texas, to a nation bitterly divided by race. And his service on the battlefield was not always matched by the respect that he deserved at home. But this veteran held his head high."

A longtime resident of Austin, Texas, Richard lived on Richard Overton Avenue, a street renamed after him. Two filmmakers from the area made a short documentary about him in 2015, in which he explained his diet was made up of soup, corn, fish and milk. "And ice cream. I eat ice cream every night. It makes me happy," he added. "Especially butter pecan."

"I still walk, I still talk, and I still drive," Overton said in the documentary, referring to his pickup truck. He also discussed how he still went to church every week.

Speaking to CNN in 2013, he credited God for his long lifespan, saying, "If man had it, I'd have been dead, but God's got it, and he's keeping me well."

richard overton Credit: Getty

"I drink whiskey in my coffee. Sometimes I drink it straight," he said when he was 107. "I smoke my cigars, blow the smoke out; I don't swallow it."

In May this year, Richard's family and friends gathered in his home to celebrate his 112th birthday. The event attracted much media attention, including outlet KXAN, who quoted him as saying, "I feel fine every day. No pain and no aches."

During his lifetime, he was positioned in Hawaii, Okinawa, Guam and Iwo Jima, and lived to see 19 US presidents. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called Overton "an American icon and a Texas legend" in a statement made on Thursday, in which he said:

"With his quick wit and kind spirit he touched the lives of so many, and I am deeply honoured to have known him. Richard Overton made us proud to be Texans and proud to be Americans. We can never repay Richard Overton for his service to our nation and for his lasting impact on the Lone Star State."

Our thoughts go out to Richard's friends and family.