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World War II Vet, Who's About To Turn 109, Still Enjoys A Cigar


Today is an important anniversary in the history of World War II. It's the 70th anniversary of VE Day, when the Allies celebrated victory in Europe. Of 16 million Americans who served in the war, just about a million are still alive.


And this morning, we're going to hear from one of them. Richard Overton, who is 108, identified by the White House, is the oldest living veteran of World War II. He was in his 30s when he joined forces commanded by General Douglas MacArthur.

RICHARD OVERTON: That's right, in South Pacific Army.

GREENE: Overton was deployed to the Pacific in the fight against Japan. He served in the all-black 188th Aviation Engineer Battalion. They would build airfields where there were none.

OVERTON: I went from island to island in the South Pacific.

INSKEEP: It was called island hopping as U.S. forces moved toward Japan.

GREENE: We caught up with Richard Overton on his porch in Austin, Texas. He was wearing his baseball cap embroidered with the words World War II veteran and smoking a cigar. What stays with him about his war experience is not the details, but the feelings.

OVERTON: It was difficult. I'd never done that before. Uncle Sam called me in. And I went there, and I had to do it. But I got back safe, all right. I didn't get no scratch on me.

GREENE: When he returned, Overton went straight back to work at his job at a furniture store in Austin.

OVERTON: I'm glad I'm back home, and I'm glad I didn't get like some of the others. Some got their arms off. Some got their leg off. Some lost their body. Some lost their soul.

GREENE: A couple years ago, he got to visit the White House and meet President Obama in celebration of Veterans Day. Now he's getting ready to celebrate a birthday.

OVERTON: I'll be 109 years old Monday.

INSKEEP: One-hundred-nine - so happy birthday to Richard Overton a few days early, and on this anniversary of VE Day, a note of thanks to all his fellow veterans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: December 27, 2018 at 9:00 PM PST
A previous version of the Web summary misidentified World War II veteran Richard Overton by incorrectly calling him Robert.