At 111, Oldest Living WWII Veteran Still Enjoys His Whiskey and Cigars
Richard Overton is a 111-year-old vet, and if there are three things he likes, it's cigars, whiskey and his renovated home
Richard Overton has seen much during his storied life, which began on May 11, 1906, the same year President Theodore Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize.
At 111 years old, Overton is a supercentenarian, staking claim to the title of being the oldest verified living WWII veteran and the oldest man in all 50 states. He has met President Barack Obama, been honored by the San Antonio Spurs with a custom jersey, and even has had a street named after him. But through it all, Overton remains a humble man who simply likes to spend his days sitting on the porch of his Austin, Texas, home, enjoying two of his favorite things: whiskey and cigars.
“I smoke at least 12 cigars a day on my front porch,” Overton tells PEOPLE. “And most of my whiskey is from Tennessee.”
Overton served in the U.S. Army from 1940 to 1945, arriving at Pearl Harbor moments after the Japanese attacked. After his time in the military, Overton returned home to Texas, where he has since lived a modest life in the Austin home he built with his own two hands almost 70 years ago.
While Overton has watched the world change—he’s seen the rise of the automobiles, televisions, atomic bombs, personal computers, the Internet and smartphones—his home has stayed the same. As the years passed and his physical abilities declined, the beloved house and its old carpet and cramped doorways soon became a hazard for the senior.
At the end of 2016, Volma Overton Jr., Overton’s third-cousin and one of his last living relatives, started a GoFundMe page to raise money for the WWII vet’s 24-hour-a-day care. It was their hope that Overton would be able to remain in the home he built instead of living out his days in an assisted living facility.
As of September 28, donations are just $2,000 shy of their $200,000 goal. Fortunately for Overton, he recently received a much-needed helping hand from The Home Depot Foundation that all but ensured he would be able to stay in his home.
Overton’s house received a dramatic renovation in July, thanks to The Home Depot Foundation and Meals on Wheels Central Texas’ Home Repair Program, to make it more accessible to him. Both organizations are dedicated to improving the lives of senior veterans at home. The Home Depot Foundation is also in the middle of its Celebration of Service campaign in support of veterans.
“One of the first things I asked was how much it cost,” recalls Overton. “They said ‘Nothing’… and I said, ‘Bring ’em on in!’ ”
Though Overton didn’t have to spend a dime, repairs to replace electrical wiring, widen doors, and install temperature control systems and laminated floors cost an estimated $35,000.
“The house was built in ’48, so it’s a little bit dangerous,” says Charles Cloutman, Vice President of Home Repair at Meals on Wheels. “His bathroom was inaccessible, and he hadn’t had a shower in a long time because he wouldn’t dare get into the tub.”
For two weeks, Overton lived in a nearby hotel as Home Depot associates went to work, and according to the supercentenarian, their improvements made all the difference.
“I like everything. I like it all, the new floors, kitchen, bathrooms, new AC,” Overton says. “They did such a wonderful job.”
Overton Jr. agrees, and says the 111-year-old might spend a little bit more time indoors now.
“Richard hated being inside and would spend all his time out on his porch, in the heat talking to anyone and everyone that walked by,” Overton Jr. tells PEOPLE. “Now he is inside, in a house with well-regulated cooling and AC. He loves his home and spending time in it.”
Thanks to the team of volunteers, Overton will be able to spend even more of his incredible golden years inside the house he loves, doing the things he loves. But you may still be able to catch him out on his porch on Richard Overton Avenue with a cigar or whiskey in hand, as he has done for so many years. If you do, don’t bother asking him about the secret to his long life, because according to Overton, there isn’t one.
“I don’t have a secret. I am here because the man upstairs wants me to be here,” he says. “No secret. He put me here, and he decides when it’s my time to go.”