Richard Overton famously said that he enjoyed drinking and smoking and didn't take medicine

By Maura Hohman
December 28, 2018 10:20 AM
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP/REX/Shutterstock

The U.S. lost its oldest man — who was also the nation’s oldest World War II veteran — on Thursday.

Richard Overton died at age 112 after a recent hospitalization for pneumonia, multiple outlets have confirmed.

Overton was released on Christmas Eve after it became clear that he wasn’t going to beat the illness, according to the Associated Press. He died at a rehab facility in Austin, Texas.

“They had done all they could,” Shirley Overton, who was married to the veteran’s cousin and longtime caretaker, told the AP.

Richard Overton

Early Friday, the U.S. Army honored him in a touching tweet.

“Today we mourn not just a hero, but a legend,” read the tweet. “The oldest American #WWII Veteran, Richard Overton, died at the age of 112. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Overton family. He was a hero to us all. May you rest in peace Sir.”

CNN reports that Overton began volunteering for the Army in 1942 and became a member of the all-black 188th Aviation Engineer Battalion, serving on several islands across the Pacific Ocean.

In 2013, President Barack Obama honored Overton at a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

“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,’ ” the 44th commander-in-chief stated.

Richard Overton
Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty

At the time, the Austin resident told CNN that he tried to block the war from his memory, explaining that he “forgot all that stuff.”

That year, at the age of 107, he famously said that he enjoyed drinking and smoking and didn’t take medicine.

“I drink whiskey in my coffee. Sometimes I drink it straight,” he told CNN. “I smoke my cigars, blow the smoke out; I don’t swallow it.”

“I smoke at least 12 cigars a day on my front porch,” Overton explained to PEOPLE. “And most of my whiskey is from Tennessee.”

Richard Overton
The Home Depot Foundation

In a statement released on Thursday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recognized Overton as “an American icon and a Texas legend,” adding, “With his quick wit and kind spirit he touched the lives of so many, and I am deeply honored to have known him.”

“Richard Overton made us proud to be Texans and proud to be Americans,” Abbott continued. “We can never repay Richard Overton for his service to our nation and for his lasting impact on the Lone Star State.”

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Despite needing around-the-clock care near the end of his life, Overton maintained plenty of hobbies.

“I eat ice cream every night. It makes me happy,” he said in Mr. Overton, the short documentary by Austin-based filmmakers Rocky Conly and Matt Cooper.

Other favorite foods included soup, corn, fish and milk. He also liked to sing and drive widows in his neighborhood to church.

Born in 1906, Overton would have turned 113 on May 11, 2019.