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Oldest WWII vet shares secret for longevity

Richard Overton, America's oldest World War II veteran, discusses his lifestyle and how he was able to live so long.

Posted: Dec 29, 2018 12:22 AM
Updated: Dec 29, 2018 12:34 AM

Richard Overton, America's oldest World War II veteran and the oldest man in the United States, died Thursday afternoon at the age of 112.

The death was confirmed to CNN by Shirley Overton, a family member.

Overton would have been 113 on May 11, 2019.

The veteran had been hospitalized with pneumonia, his family said.

Overton volunteered for the Army starting in 1942 and served with the 188th Aviation Engineer Battalion, an all-black unit that served on various islands in the Pacific.

"He was there at Pearl Harbor when the battleships were still smoldering. 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,'" former President Barack Obama said while honoring Overton at a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in 2013.

Overton told CNN at the time he didn't like thinking or talking about the war, saying he "forgot all that stuff."

Overton was a longtime resident of Austin, Texas, according to CNN affiliate KXAN, living on a street -- Richard Overton Avenue -- renamed for him.

He told CNN in 2013 that he credited God for living so long but said he didn't take any medicine and enjoyed his vices.

"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 a statement Thursday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called Overton "an American icon and a Texas legend."

"With his quick wit and kind spirit he touched the lives of so many, and I am deeply honored to have known him," Abbott said. "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."

In 2015, Overton was the subject of a short documentary titled "Mr. Overton" by Austin-based filmmakers Rocky Conly and Matt Cooper.

He said in the film he loved to eat soup, corn and fish, and drink milk.

"And ice cream. I eat ice cream every night. It makes me happy," he said. Especially butter pecan, he said.

"I still walk, I still talk, and I still drive," Overton said on camera, before hopping into his Ford F100 Custom pickup truck.

Overton also said in the film he liked to go to church and enjoyed the singing. He also loved caring for his cats.

Overton's family and friends celebrated his 112th birthday in May by visiting him at his home, KXAN reported.

"I feel fine every day," KXAN quoted him as telling photographers at the event. "No pain and no aches."

At the party, a friend had made T-shirts to sell to raise support for Overton's around-the-clock at-home care. On them, the secret to longevity Overton reportedly gave TV host and comedian Steve Harvey: "Keep living, don't die."

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