Richard A. Overton turned 112 years old on May 11. As with birthday celebrations everywhere, there was a gathering of friends and there was food and drink. But Overton celebrated his birthday in a style befitting a Cigar Aficionado—he smoked several cigars.
Smoking cigars is a daily ritual for Overton, who is not only the oldest living man in America, but the oldest American veteran of World War II. His typical day involves rising early (sometimes he gets up at 3 a.m.), brewing coffee and smoking cigars. He’s good for about 12 cigars a day.
Reached on his birthday, at about 2:30 in the afternoon, he had already smoked six.
“I’m happy every day,” he said while puffing a cigar in his home. “I don’t have no worries. I feel fine—I ain’t got no aches, pains or nothing.”
Overton was born in St. Mary's Colony, Texas, outside of Austin, on May 11, 1906, only three years after the first flight of the Wright Brothers. He was drafted into the U.S. Army and served from 1942 through 1945, fighting for the all-black 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalion. His service took him to the South Pacific, where the United States would fight some of its bloodiest battles, and his group built airfields to fight the Japanese as the United States hopped ever closer to the Japanese mainland. His boots hit the beaches of Guam, Hawaii, Palau and the volcanic Japanese island of Iwo Jima, where one of the fiercest battles in the history of war took place. In five weeks, more than 6,800 Americans lost their lives.
"He arrived in Iwo Jima a few days after the main battle," says his friend Allen Bergeron, chairman of Honor Flight Austin. "He was part of the body detail. He says that's where the water along the beach turned to blood."
Bergeron says Overton had 30 confirmed kills during the war, but he emerged from his service uninjured. "Bullets went behind me, above me, why they didn't hit me, I don't know," says Overton.
The war ended in September 1945, and in October Overton was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant. Back in Austin, he returned to his job at a furniture store and built his own home.
There are burdens to living such long lives. He married twice, but outlived both wives. He never had children. And there are all those soldiers who fought alongside him who didn't come home. "I lost a lot of my friends," he says.
He smokes cigars every day, and prefers them mild and rather small. His go-to smoke is a machine-made cigar called a Tampa Sweet, a bargain brand that sells for about 40 cents a cigar.
He had a doctor once who told him to drop the cigars. He ignored the advice. "I smoke 12 a day," he says, "but I don't inhale them. It's the good taste. Let your lungs stay clean."
Overton not only loves his cigars, but he has a taste for whiskey. He drank much of it as a younger man ("I used to drink a lot," he says frankly), but today puts only the occasional splash in a cup of coffee, a cocktail he claims has a beneficial effect. "You put a taste of whiskey in your coffee in the morning," he advises. "It's like medicine."