Nation’s Oldest WWII Vet Dies at 112

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The nation’s oldest World War II veteran has died.

Richard Overton, an African-American soldier who fought during segregation, was 112 years old.

Overton was believed to be the oldest living citizen.  The Texas native died last week after being admitted to the hospital on Christmas Eve with pneumonia.

Overton was born in 1906, near Austin, Texas. In 1940, he joined the Army. Overton was stationed at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked. During his time in in the 1887th Aviation Engineer Battalion, a unit made up of black soldiers, he served overseas in Okinawa and Iwo Jima.

In an interview with NPR’s Morning Edition in 2015, he spoke of his service, stating “it was difficult”.

“I’m glad I didn’t get like some of the others,” Overton stated. “Some got their arms off. Some got their leg off. Some lost their body. Some lost their soul.”

Later in his life, Overton was praised for his service. In 2013, he received an invitation from President Obama to attend a ceremony on Veteran’s Day at Arlington National Cemetery where he received a standing ovation.

“Everybody, I want you to know a little something about Mr. Overton here,” Obama said. “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.’ “

In 2014, the U.S Coast Guard Mid-Atlantic honored Overton for his service. “He fought and risked his life in service to his country despite the fact that he was not yet treated as an equal back home,” said Capt. James O’Keefe.

After his service, Overton spent many years in the furniture business in Austin. He married twice; divorced his first wife in the 1920s and outlived his second wife who died in the 1980s. He did not have any children but was cared for by a cousin until his death.

The U.S. Army offered prayers via Twitter, stating “Today we mourn not just a hero, but a legend.”

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