{ 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.

3 Comments

  1. Sharon M.
    March 30, 2016 at 1:05 pm

    Wonderful post. Thanks for sharing the story of a very special person!

  2. Debbie Autry
    March 30, 2016 at 7:54 pm

    Amazing Man!! Thanks for sharing Mr. Overton’s story with us. Thank you Mr. Overton for your service! God Bless!!

  3. Dale Barashes
    December 27, 2018 at 9:23 pm

    Absolutely fantastic article! Truly a very special veteran. I am sad to hear of his passing but would like to posthumously thank him and his family for his outstanding service. The trials and tribulations this man went through or not to be overlooked. He deserves the recognition that the author has given here. I think Christy chason should become a permanent blogger for the veterans history project at library of Congress.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.