Richard Overton spent Veteran’s Day this year serving as grand marshal in the Austin, Texas parade alongside the mayor, another veteran. What makes Overton so special?
He is the oldest living male veteran in the United States. At 108 years old, this man from Texas rarely uses his cane to walk, is still doing his own yard work and driving widows to church every Sunday. He told a local TV station in an interview last March that he doesn’t take any medicine other than aspirin…and the “medicine” he puts in his coffee every morning. He told Fox News, “I may drink a little in the evening too with some soda water, but that’s it. Whiskey’s a good medicine, it keeps your muscles tender.”
Overton was born May 11, 1906 in Austin, Texas and served in the 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalion from 1942-1945. He served in Hawaii, Guam, Palau, and Iwo Jima, and was present at Pearl Harbor during the attack. In a 2013 interview with USA TODAY, Overton said, “War’s nothing to be into. You don’t want to go into the war if you don’t have to. But I had to go. I enjoyed it after I’d went and come back, but I didn’t enjoy it when I was over there. I had to do things I didn’t want to do.” Upon his return from service, he worked at a local furniture store and also in the state Treasurer’s office. He retired from the furniture store at the age of 65…the first time. He was hired and retired four more times before finally retiring for good. “I got near 100 and finally quit. They still wanted me back,” he chuckled.
The 108 year old still lives in the house he and his wife bought when he returned from WWII, though she passed away 22 years ago. He told Fox News that although he’s retired, he likes to stay busy trimming trees and helping with horses but says he never watches TV.
Thanks to Honor Flight Austin, an organization that brings Texas veterans to Washington, D.C. Overton was able to visit the nation’s capital last year, making a stop at the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial where he wept. “I’ve gotten so many letters and so many thank-yous and I enjoy every bit of it, but I’m still going to enjoy some more,” he said as he described the outpouring of support he’s gotten over the many Veteran’s Day’s he’s seen.
On discussing his longevity, Overton said, “I drink whiskey in my coffee. Sometimes I drink it straight. I smoke my cigars, blow the smoke out – I don’t swallow it.” Upon being asked the secret to living a long life Overton replied,
“I ain’t got nothing to do with that. No, that’s God’s work. Yeah, but I think I’m gonna make it. I done made it this far, I’m gonna still make it on further…Whatever God gives me. If He gives me 10 more years, I hope I’ll be able to take it. If He gives me 5, I hope I’ll be able to take it.”
Overton is only three days older than the oldest living female American veteran, Lucy Coffey. Also 108 years old, Coffey joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in 1943 after having been rejected by the military twice before for being too short or too slim. The recipient of two bronze stars, she served in Australia, Dutch New Guinea, the Philippines, and Japan, where she remained as a civil servant for 10 years after her honorable discharge in 1945. Upon returning to the States, Coffey worked at San Antonio Air Force Base until her retirement in 1971.
Coffey’s two brothers also served in WWII and their father fought in the Civil War. Her nephew, John Mulrey is a Vietnam veteran and went with her on her free trip to Washington in July, courtesy of Honor Flight Austin and American Airlines. The 108 year old woman is unable to walk or speak much, though her nephew Mulrey told Stars and Stripes, “She is very shy about her time in the service. She doesn’t talk about it much. She just did what she had to do.”