Richard Arvin Overton was the oldest verified World War II veteran, up until two days ago. On December 27, 2018, he passed away at the age of 112. He was also the third-oldest man in the world. He was around longer than any of us. So you can only imagine the things that Richard has seen.
The Things He Saw
Overton was born on May 11, 1906, in Bastrop County, Texas. He is the grandson of a slave and grew up in one of the darkest periods in American history. He lived through the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the election of the first black president of the United States.
Thrust Into War
He began his career in the military on September 3, 1940, at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. And in December 1941, he was sent to Hawaii immediately after the unanticipated attack by Japanese forces on Pearl Harbor. And just like that, Overton was thrust into World War II. Along with the rest of America.
From 1942 to 1945, Overton served in the Pacific Theater with the Army’s segregated 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalion. He held different jobs while in the military, including burial detail, base security and driver for an officer.
After the War
After returning home from the war, Richard Overton came to Austin, Texas. And he decided to build a home. And it is the same home he lived in until his passing. His health condition was costly, and it would have served him better to be in an assisted-living home. But Overton had no intentions of leaving.
Overton said, “I paid $4,000 for this house in 1945. I ain’t trying to move. This is where I sit and rest.” He was happy, living a relatively ordinary life. In his words: “I still walk. I still talk. I still drive.” He even got his licensed renewed when he was 109.
But how did Richard take care of himself?
Remembering the Military
When asked if he missed the military, his response was: “Oh sure, but the war wasn’t no fun. You never know what’s coming and you never know what’s going.” He continued by saying, “I think about the war every day. It runs across my mind every day.“
“I remember World War I, too. I wasn’t old enough to fight, but I remember things.” One can only imagine what it would be like to be in both World Wars and live to talk about it. With that kind of life experience, you must wonder how he’s doing today.
His State of Health
He was asked how he’s feeling. “I’m doing fine. Every time they [doctors] come it’s the same thing. They can’t find anything. It’s because I know how to take care of myself,” he said. “I’ve got my good health and as long as I have my good health I’ll keep dancing.”
Richard was a heavy smoker. He had packs of Tampa Sweet cigars next to his armchair. “I started smoking these cigars since I was 18 years old,” Overton said. He smokes more than 12 cigars a day. “I don’t inhale them. All I do is smoke ’em and blow the smoke out. I never swallow the smoke.”
And how Richard viewed his cigars is rather unsettling.
His ‘Best Friends’
When talking about his cigars, he had a way of justifying his habit – one that no one can really argue with. “These are my best friends since everyone else keeps on leaving me,” he remarked with a laugh.
At his age, it was only natural for him to want to cling on to something. He has seen so much, people have come and gone, loved ones have passed away. Smoking his cigars has kept him comfort. And no one was judging him for that.
Richard was even honored by the president of the US.
Honored by the President
Richard received media attention during the 2013 Memorial Day weekend when he told Fox News he would spend his Memorial Day “smoking cigars and drinking whiskey-stiffened coffee.”
And on that same Memorial Day Weekend, Richard was honored by President Barack Obama. He was invited to the White House where he met with President Barack Obama, and to the Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, where he was praised by the President.
Richard got even another honorary mention. This time at a sporting event.
Honored at Half Time
On March 24, 2017, during an NBA game between the San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies, Overton was honored during a half-time break.
Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images
Overton is also the subject of a 2016 documentary, Mr. Overton, in which he is interviewed. He was asked about his daily routine, longevity, and his military service. And on May 3, 2016, he became the oldest surviving American veteran after the death of Frank Levingston. And so on May 11, 2016, Overton became a supercentenarian.
But Richard had a problem. One that could have taken him out of his home.
In the summer of 2017, Overton was admitted to a hospital for treatment for his third bout of pneumonia. The illness was found in both his lungs. And after fighting off the infection, he returned home to rest, instead of going to a care facility.
His family is worried about him and how he will be able to care for himself. With his condition, he needed 24-hour care, which can be very costly. And even if he became adept at fighting off pneumonia, his family thought he needed more help.
They decided to take measures to help out their beloved family member.
Since December 2016, Overton’s family has raised more than $280,000 for his round-the-clock care, medicine, equipment, and food. They used the popular “GoFundMe” website. And helped a lot.
Overton has outlived almost everybody in the family. He was married twice but never had any children. The money they raised for him is his lifeline. It kept him alive and well. And the idea of having to leave his house is what Richard is fearful of.
The Department of Veterans Affairs was willing to pay for him to move into an assisted-living facility. But Richard didn’t want to leave the home he built, full of memories.
Richard preferred to stay in his home in Austin, Texas, for the rest of his life. The problem was his bills came to about $15,000 a month.
Was the GoFundMe money that his family raised enough?
“That home is his heart, his memories, it is his everything,” Overton’s cousin Volma Overton, 70, said about Richard and his home. “Moving him out of this house is what’s going to put him in the grave.”
“I’ve talked to so many people my age who moved their loved ones out of their homes and that really seemed to be the beginning of the end,” he added. Richard didn’t have many major health problems. He took a few pills and was getting by.
And Richard had his ways of keeping his spirits up, event at the age of 112.
Keeping His Spirits High
Richard had a full spiritual life. He went to church regularly. He said the church “Keeps me goin’. Keeps me feelin’ good.” He said “You learn how to live better. How to treat people.”
Richard loved the church for its community, the singing choir, and everything in-between. It could be a large reason why he was going strong, with a positive attitude. And if you’re wondering if Richard had someone to share his life with, the answer is yes. He had a special someone.
Richard has a certain someone special in his life. And he says they get along “real nice.” He calls her Ms. Love and she’s 94 years old as of this year.
.It’s so important to be able to share your time with someone you love and get along with, especially at an old age. Richard and Ms. Love did a lot together. They went to the grocery store together, visited people in the hospital, and went to church together.
But Richard’s health has gone down recently…
Battling Pneumonia Again
This month, Richard had to be taken to another medical facility for rehab treatment. He got pneumonia again and his body is weak and is in need of physical fitness work.
Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images
His family asked that everyone continue to keep Richard in their thoughts and prayers, and thanked the public for their help in his battle. His cousin said, “He is a true soldier in fighting this infection battle with all that he has. Many thanks for being with him along this difficult journey.”
Richard Overton died on December 27, 2018. He was all of 112 years old. He was battling pneumonia and this time it overtook him. He would have been 113 on May 11, 2019.
Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Barack Obama had this to say about Overton at the Veteran’s Day Memorial: “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.”
Before Overton’s death, he was a victim of an unfortunate common felony.
Unfortunately, senior citizens can be victims of identity theft. And Richard was targeted. On July 1, 2018, it was reported that he became a victim of identity theft. An unknown suspect opened a fake bank account with Overton’s social security number. He/she accessed his personal checking account, and used the money to gather savings bonds.
Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images
His family discovered a number of withdrawals from his bank account made over the last several months. And they couldn’t figure it out.
A Harsh Reminder
The amount of money stolen was not disclosed but it was likely a large sum. This is a harsh reminder that seniors are especially vulnerable to scams. And it’s important to always check your bank account and make sure nothing suspicious is occurring.
A 2015 report showed that seniors lose more than $36 billion a year to financial scams and abuse, which includes identity theft. And these thieves has very sneaky ways in which they prey on seniors in need.
Older Americans fall prey to thieves with clearly no morals. They impersonate Medicare representatives. They may ask them to submit payment for a new ID or have them call to confirm their bank account and Social Security number.
For seniors to be aware, Medicare sends all of their information via post and will not contact beneficiaries by phone. So people should never give out their personal data to anyone who calls.
Recently, the American government took action.
Broad Enforcement Sweep
In February, the American Justice Department announced a “broad enforcement sweep” where they charged more than 250 defendants of defrauding seniors. There were all kinds of schemes involved, including mass mailing and telemarketing.
The losses from these plots were estimated at more than $500 million! Scams are all too prevalent and can be avoided if spotted.
Spotting a Scam
Sadly, people take advantage of the human desire to be successful. Targets of a sweepstakes scheme, usually older people, often get a call, card or email telling them that they’ve won a prize. And there’s always a catch – they’ll need to pay a fee or “taxes” in order to pick up their winnings.
It’s very important to understand that legitimate sweepstakes would never ask you to send money or force you to pay a fee to claim a prize. Real offers do occur, but they will tell you the terms and conditions, including the rules of the contest.
Richard’s Military Service
Richard served in the Pacific Theater from 1942 to 1945. He was part of the all-black 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalion. Not everyone knows what the Pacific Theater was. First of all, a theater is the term for when important military events occur.
Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
The Pacific Ocean theater during World War II was a major theater of the war between Allies and the Empire of Japan. It included most of the Pacific Ocean and its islands, but mainland Asia was excluded, along with the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, Borneo, Australia, the Territory of New Guinea and the western part of the Solomon Islands.
Many of us know of Pearl Harbor from the history books and even Hollywood movies. But Richard knows of Pearl Harbor from personal experience. He had been at Pearl Harbor after the Japanese attacked.
Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images
The attack was a surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, in Hawaii. It happened on the morning of December 7, 1941. It was the attack that led the United States to enter into World War II.
The attack on Pearl Harbor came as a profound shock to America. The following day, on December 8, the United States declared war on Japan. And then a few days later, on December 11, Germany and Italy each declared war on the U.S.
Source: Getty Images
The U.S. then responded with a declaration of war against Germany and Italy. President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed December 7, 1941, as “a date which will live in infamy.” Considering the attack happened without a declaration of war and without any real warning, the attack on Pearl Harbor was later judged in the Tokyo Trials as a war crime.
Richard was also a part of the Battle of Okinawa. The battle was codenamed Operation Iceberg, and it was a major battle of the Pacific War which was fought on the island of Okinawa. The battle was mainly between the United States Marine and Army forces and the Imperial Japanese Army.
Photo by Frederic Lewis/Getty Images
The invasion of Okinawa on April 1, 1945, was the largest amphibious assault (using ships as the primary method to bring in troops) in the Pacific Theater of World War II. The battle lasted 82 days.
Richard Overton was involved in yet another famous battle.
The Battle of Iwo Jima started on February 19 and ended on March 26, 1945. It was a major battle where the United States Marine Corps landed on and captured the island of Iwo Jima from the Japanese Army during World War II.
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images
The five-week battle involved some of the bloodiest fightings of the Pacific War of World War II. The American victory could have been predicted from the start. There was American superiority in troops and arms as well as complete air supremacy. With the impossibility of Japanese retreat and sparse food and supplies, there was no way in which the Americans could have lost the battle.
Richard Overton was a centenarian: someone who has lived to be 100 years of age or more. You might be interested to know that the current oldest centenarian is a Chinese engineer and scientist by the name of Qin Hanzhang.
Source: The 110 Club
Qin is actually a supercentenarian – a term for those who surpass their 110th birthday. He was born in 1908 and is a pioneer in the field of food science and industrial fermentation. He contributed to the development of the food industry in China with about eight decades of work under his belt. He is also a leading scholar in the wine industry.
The second oldest centenarian is an Italian woman.
Cecilia was born in 1908 and is an Italian composer, painter, and teacher. She’s also 110, which makes her a supercentenarian as well. She is the daughter of composer and choirmaster Cesare Augusto Seghizzi who was one of Italy’s most popular composers.
Cecilia was exiled to the Refugee Camp of Wagna in Austria during World War I. but when she returned home, she started a life-long career in music and art. In her thirties, she performed in concerts and taught in middle school and music school.
Stanislaw is a Polish centenarian Masters athlete, which is a class of the sport of athletics for veteran athletes in the events of track and field, road running and cross country running. Stanislaw competed in sprinting, shot put and discus.
Kowalski was born on April 14, 1910, in Rogówek, a village in which he lived until the end of the 1930s. It must be genetics because he comes from a long-living family. His mother lived to be 99 years old.
On the Topic of Longevity
Since we are on the topic of longevity, you might be wondering how these individuals lived to such an old age. How did they do it? Well, no one has a magic potion. We can only speculate. That said, there are core traits and commonalities that many centenarians share.
Photo by: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images
The main commonality is a social connection. People that have meaningful relationships can call on their loved ones for help in times of need and hardship. Also, social isolation and loneliness are often associated with negative health issues, like obesity, inactivity, and smoking. Socially isolated and lonely people are more likely to have hypertension, more inflammation, and increased blood clotting.
Conscientiousness is a huge and possibly the biggest influence on longevity. Studies have shown that persistent, industrious, organized, and disciplined “facets of conscientiousness” are greatly associated with longevity.
Source: Thrifty Momma Ramblings
Conscientious people tend to be healthier and generally take better care of themselves. The longevity can be explained by obvious factors, like how thoughtful people are more likely to care about their diet and other health-related behaviors and so they end up making better health-related decisions.
Not Worrying Too Much
People who live to such an age tend to let things slide off their backs. They are generally more easy-going and don’t get hung up things that most people can get stuck on. We all know that stress is a major killer.
But too easy-going is not a good thing. If you’re too carefree, you might have poor decision-making. Bottom line: strive for balance. You should stress less but still take life seriously.
Studies also show that optimism is a good predictor of longevity. Optimists are more resistant to stress and they live longer and healthier lives than pessimists.
Optimists can be seen as fighters because they can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and so they keep going. They don’t give up. To an optimist, things only fail because you gave up on them. So try looking on the bright side the next time something “bad” happens in your life.
Lots of research shows that ease of laughter is a strong predictor of longevity. As the saying goes, “He who laughs most, laughs last.” Laughter isn’t just an enjoyable thing, it’s also really good for you.
Physically, laughter reduces stress and improves natural killer cell activity (a part of your immune system responsible for fighting cancer and other diseases). It lowers cortisol, too. So go out to a comedy club, hang out with people that make you laugh, and watch those comedies. You might be adding years to your life.
Studies have shown that men and women who were happiest throughout the day lived the longest. Even those with chronic diseases saw longevity benefits from being happy.
One way to see it is that happy people have something to live for. Those who wake up knowing that their day is going to be good, they’re more likely to live longer. It’s a goal worth striving for regardless of how long you live for.
Extraversion is another significant predictor of longevity, as well as happiness, resistance to stress, and even mood regulation. It could be that modern society is geared toward and favors the extraverted as opposed to the introverted.
Source: Reader’s Digest
An introvert may experience more stress in social activities, like job interviews, small talk, presentations, and any other event where extraversion can help you. For those of you who may be introverts, there’s something to the phrase “fake it until you make it.” Just act extroverted, and you might be surprised by the results.
Foods for Longevity
Now that we’ve gone over personality traits that contribute to living a long life, we can move on to foods that are eaten in places around the world in which people tend to live longer. All the foods are rich in antioxidants and micro-nutrients.
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Nuts and Seeds are important to include in your diet. Walnuts and flaxseed are high in Omega 3’s so they should be #1 on your next food shopping list.
Coffee or Tea
There always seems to be some controversy when it comes to coffee. But people who live longer tend to drink a couple cups of black coffee in the mornings. It might be the antioxidant effect of coffee that keeps people healthy, but green tea or hibiscus tea actually have higher antioxidants from.
Photo by: Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/UIG via Getty Images
Coffee is also known to be acidic so if you’re someone who likes both coffee and tea, it may be a wise choice to drink tea more than coffee.
Whole Grains and Leafy Greens
And by whole grain, it means literally whole. Whole wheat is not whole grain. If you’re looking for ways to add whole grains, you can cook Wheat Berries, Barley, and Rye and add them to your dishes and smoothies. Whole Grains protect over cardiovascular disease and cancer, by the way.
Photo by Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Leafy greens are another must-have in your diet for longevity. The general rule of thumb is: the darker the green, the better. So go get some spinach and kale.
Lucky for us, red wine is generally healthy alcohol. But the big moderator here is everything in moderation! Red Wine, and not a lot, is consumed by most countries with people who live long.
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But keep in mind that it’s best not to drink more than two glasses a day. There is actually some proof that wine drinkers outlive their non-drinker counterparts. But it might be due to the flavonoids, antioxidants, social time, and the destressor effect of wine that does the trick.