{ subscribe_url:'//blogs.loc.gov/share/sites/library-of-congress-blogs/folklife.php' }

Veteran Spotlight: Richard Overton

The following is a guest post by Christy Chason, liaison specialist for the Veterans History Project (VHP).

When our friends at the American Red Cross of Greater Texas told me they were sending us the interview of Richard Arvine Overton, who is thought to be the oldest living American war veteran, I got very excited, mainly because I had heard of him before. I had read about him in news articles, and heard reports that he was still active—does yard work, smokes cigars, drinks whiskey and drives his truck around town. I knew that his story would be special.

At an astounding 109 years old, Overton was born in 1906 in Texas, and served in the Pacific Theater from 1942 to 1945 as part of the U.S. Army’s first all-African American 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalion. While there, he served on burial detail, as base security and as a jeep driver for a Lieutenant.

Screen shot from Richard Arvine Overton's VHP interview, 2013.

Screen shot from Richard Arvine Overton’s VHP interview, 2013.

When we received the interview, I immediately gave it a listen. What first struck me was how vividly he recalled even the smallest of details—how a “canteen of water would have to last you three or four days,” or how you “never put a rock in front of a foxhole, you put a pile of dirt.” It wasn’t until I got about halfway through the interview that things took a somber turn.

When describing how an entire company got wiped out, Overton recalled,

In Iwo Jima, the water turned to blood.

That line stayed with me. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine what it must have been like. I tried to imagine what it must have been like for my grandfather who was on the shores of Normandy, a place that also saw the oceans turn to blood. As much as I tried to visualize the scene, my mind could only recall bits of film I had seen or literature I had read. I realized that I would never really know what that was like. I also realized how incredibly lucky we are to have someone like Overton to describe these events so that we may better understand the realities of war.

Despite living through the horrors of war, he says towards the end of the interview,

I lived a good life.

He turns 110 on May 11th.  Here’s hoping he sees even more good years.

The complete recorded video of Overton’s VHP interview may be found here. Visit our website, www.loc.gov/vets, to find out how to preserve the story of a veteran whose story resonates with you.

April Fools: The Roots of an International Tradition

Note: A shorter version of this article was published in the March/April 2016 issue of LCM: Library of Congress Magazine.  Download a pdf here. Scan your favorite newspapers or news websites this April 1, and chances are you’ll see some headlines that look suspicious. Read further, and you’ll probably find that some of those stories […]

On the Bunny Trail: In Search of the Easter Bunny

Note: Some of this research, and an interview with the author,  is being included in a report on CBS Sunday Morning, which should air Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016. The Easter Bunny, like Santa Claus, is the bringer of gifts on a popular American holiday. Throughout the country, the swift little creature is said to […]

World Storytelling Day: Stories of Strong Women

March 20 is World Storytelling Day.  Tying storytelling with the equinox in March is thought to have originated in Sweden as Alla berättares dag (all storytellers day) in 1991 or 1992. Other countries joined to celebrate storytelling on the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere and the first day of autumn in the […]

A Band Apart: The Veterans History Project Features Women at War

The following is a guest post by Owen Rogers, liaison specialist for the Veterans History Project (VHP). Looking back on my childhood in rural Connecticut, I was fortunate to have grandparents who lived just a few houses away. One of my favorite pastimes was to move from room to room in their house, pointing out […]

The Persian Gulf War: 25 Years Later

“I’ve been told by older veterans they had hangovers that lasted longer than that war.”—Dawn Stratton As Marine Corps Captain Dawn Stratton’s comment in her Veterans History Project (VHP) oral history makes clear, the Persian Gulf War—which took place from August 1990 to the end of February 1991—was a short one, lasting as long in […]

Spring Tonics

Cultures that rely on limited local sources of food in the winter often have traditions about the restorative and curative powers of foods and herbs that become available in the spring.  The American Folklife Center’s Coal River Folklife Project, headed by Mary Hufford, documented folklife in West Virginia’s Coal River Valley (1992 to 1999).  The […]