Na­tion’s old­est man is laid to rest

WWII vet­eran Richard Over­ton, na­tion’s old­est man, laid to rest

The Dallas Morning News - - Front Page - By LAU­REN McGAUGHY Austin Bureau lm­c­[email protected]­las­news.com

Richard Over­ton, the na­tion’s old­est man and old­est vet­eran when he died Dec. 27, is laid to rest at the Texas State Ceme­tery.

AUSTIN — A leg­end has been laid to rest.

Richard A. Over­ton, proud Amer­i­can and ven­er­ated soldier, was buried at the Texas State Ceme­tery on Satur­day with full mil­i­tary honors.

At 112, Over­ton was the na­tion’s old­est man and most se­nior vet­eran when he died Dec. 27. His age lent him celebrity, but it was Over­ton’s hu­mor, faith and pro­found kind­ness that made him ex­tra­or­di­nary.

Hun­dreds turned out to honor the man, fa­mous for his love of whiskey and cigars, be­fore he was in­terred in the fam­ily plot. Some placed roses on his cas­ket, a shiny num­ber with bald ea­gles em­bed­ded in its cor­ners, or swapped tales about

how he taught them to play check­ers.

Oth­ers lit up a few Tampa Sweet Per­fec­tos, im­bu­ing the cool af­ter­noon air with the sweet smell of Over­ton’s fa­vorite brand. Apache he­li­copters buzzed over­head. Gen­er­a­tions of mil­i­tary men stood at at­ten­tion. Lo­cal chil­dren played among the head­stones.

For most of his life, Over­ton lived about a half­mile from here. Now, for the first time in 70 years, his chair on the porch sits va­cant. But his fam­ily says he’ll never re­ally, truly be gone.

“His fi­nal rest­ing place is right here, right where he wanted to be,” cousin Volma Over­ton Jr. told The Dal­las Morn­ing News after the fu­neral. “He’s still home.”

‘A re­mark­able Amer­i­can’

A few years ago, Richard Over­ton was in­vited to spend his 109th birth­day at the Gover­nor’s Man­sion.

He showed up in a wheel­chair, Gov. Greg Ab­bott re­mem­bered, and promptly chal­lenged him to a race. Ab­bott, who has used a wheel­chair since suf­fer­ing an ac­ci­dent in 1984, quickly de­clined. How would it look if he lost to a man nearly twice his age?

“What is your se­cret to liv­ing so long?” Ab­bott asked Over­ton that day. “His an­swer was im­me­di­ate and un­equiv­o­cal: cigars and whiskey.”

It was this “quick wit” and “joy­ous spirit” that en­deared Over­ton to mil­lions, Ab­bott told those who came to a ser­vice hon­or­ing the su­per­cente­nar­ian at Shore­line Church on Satur­day morn­ing.

“We cel­e­brate Richard Over­ton not be­cause of how long he lived. In­stead we cel­e­brate him be­cause of how he lived his life,” Ab­bott told the con­gre­ga­tion, which num­bered in the hun­dreds. “To­day, we sa­lute a re­mark­able Amer­i­can. A soldier. A sur­vivor. A jokester. A joy.

“A man from Texas. A man of God.” De­spite hav­ing no chil­dren of his own, Over­ton was re­mem­bered as the cap­i­tal city’s great­great­great­grand­fa­ther. He was born in 1906, when there were just 45 stars on the U.S. flag. The grand­son of slaves, Over­ton grew up pick­ing cot­ton in Bas­trop County and served in a seg­re­gated unit dur­ing World War II.

Gen. John M. Mur­ray, com­man­der of the Austin­based U.S. Army Fu­tures Com­mand, said Over­ton’s 1887th En­gi­neer Avi­a­tion Bat­tal­ion faced “sear­ing” com­bat in the Pa­cific theater. But Over­ton also had to stare down “the toxic mix of ra­cial dis­crim­i­na­tion and low ex­pec­ta­tions from the units they were a part of,” added Mur­ray.

“And al­though those units across the United States Army, and re­ally across all the ser­vices, were set up to fail, Richard and his com­rades over­came those chal­lenges with valor, with ex­per­tise and with pro­fes­sion­al­ism and with ded­i­ca­tion.”

‘Gen­tle and re­spect­ful’

When Over­ton re­turned to Texas, he built a house on Austin’s east side that would be his home for the next 70 years. It was here, on that porch on Hamil­ton Av­enue, that peo­ple from across the coun­try and around the world could find Over­ton on a sunny day. They’d ask him for ad­vice, sip some Maker’s Mark, and, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said, try to soak up some of his in­fec­tious pos­i­tiv­ity.

“It was im­pos­si­ble to be around that man, who was gen­tle and re­spect­ful and kind, and not be gen­tle and re­spect­ful and kind in re­turn,” Adler said. “It im­pos­si­ble to be around Mr. Over­ton and not be the best that each of us can be.”

Eight days be­fore his 110th birth­day, Over­ton be­came the na­tion’s old­est vet­eran. The next year, Hamil­ton Av­enue was re­named Richard Over­ton Av­enue.

“And this life­long Texan,” Adler said, “will be buried to­day in the same ceme­tery as many of our state’s most fa­mous politi­cians, veter­ans and found­ing fa­thers.”

Over­ton’s fam­ily hopes to turn his home into a mu­seum one day and asks ev­ery­one to con­tinue to keep him in their thoughts.

“Let’s keep Richard in our prayers,” Volma Over­ton Jr. said. “God bless you, Richard. We love you.”

Pho­tos by Ash­ley Lan­dis/Staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

Gen. John M. Mur­ray, com­man­der of the U.S. Army Fu­tures Com­mand, saluted Richard Over­ton’s cas­ket at Satur­day’s me­mo­rial ser­vice. Mur­ray spoke of Over­ton’s World War II ser­vice, say­ing he and his black com­rades had to deal with “the toxic mix of ra­cial dis­crim­i­na­tion and low ex­pec­ta­tions from the units they were a part of.”

Flow­ers were placed near the burial site dur­ing the grave­side ser­vice at the Texas State Ceme­tery in Austin. Hun­dreds turned out to honor Over­ton, some even light­ing up Tampa Sweet Per­fec­tos, his fa­vorite cigar brand.

Pho­tos by Ash­ley Lan­dis/Staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

Brian Gregg puffs on a cigar in honor of Richard Over­ton at the Texas State Ceme­tery. Over­ton, born in 1906 and the grand­son of slaves, grew up pick­ing cot­ton in Bas­trop County and served in a seg­re­gated unit dur­ing World War II.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler places a flower on Over­ton’s cas­ket. “It was im­pos­si­ble to be around that man, who was gen­tle and re­spect­ful and kind, and not be gen­tle and re­spect­ful and kind in re­turn,” Adler said.

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