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

Richard Overton, the oldest man in the United States and the oldest military veteran, visits the National Museum of African American History and Culture on April 8, 2018, in Washington, D.C., ahead of his upcoming birthday on May 11, 1906. Washington Post photo by Jahi Chikwendiu

Richard Overton was in his mid-30s when he began serving in World War II. It was perhaps the most important thing he did with his life, but it was far from the last.

Overton, who died Thursday, Dec. 27, in Austin after battling pneumonia, according to the Associated Press, was 112. He was believed to be America's oldest man, as well as its oldest living World War II veteran.

He'd also spent decades in the furniture business, lived in his East Austin home for more than 70 years and had become something of a celebrity as he passed 108, 109 and later 112. The older he got, the more his charm - and his fondness for cigars and whiskey, his front porch and church - wowed the folks around him.

"With his quick wit and kind spirit he touched the lives of so many, and I am deeply honored to have known him," Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, R, said in a statement Thursday. "Richard Overton made us proud to be Texans and proud to be Americans."

He "lived his life with honor and dignity," President Barack Obama said in 2013.

"Everything we do with Mr. Overton turns magical," a friend, Allen Bergeron, said during a 2018 tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.

Overton, of course, had made history himself. The grandson of a Tennessee slave who moved to Texas upon emancipation, Overton was born May 11, 1906, in Bastrop County, Texas. He volunteered for the Army in his 30s and served in the Pacific Theater from 1942 to 1945 as part of the all-black 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalion. He had been at Pearl Harbor after the Japanese attacked, as well as Okinawa and Iwo Jima.

The Post's Elahe Izadi profiled Overton in 2014:

"Overton used to start his days with some whiskey in his coffee, and he still adds a teaspoon from time to time. 'It's just like medicine,' he said. Overton smokes cigars daily, too. 'I'm smoking one now,' he said from Austin.

"Indeed, Overton hasn't slowed down much and remains sharp. He still drives his old Ford pickup truck, attends church every Sunday and has been known to help to transport widows to church, according to the Austin American Statesman. And he still does yard work.

"Reminder: He is 108 years old."

At 112, he was still sharp mentally, but had been hospitalized seven times in 14 months for pneumonia, cousin Volma Overton Jr. told the Austin American-Statesman.

Overton had no children. He'd married twice; he and his first wife divorced in the 1920s, and his second wife died in the 1980s. Overton Jr., who had been overseeing his care, said his cousin outlived almost everyone in his family.

The Statesman said Overton's funeral would be held Jan. 12.

This article was written by Keith McMillan, a reporter for The Washington Post.