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America's oldest World War II veteran dies at 112

Richard Overton was a decorated U.S. Army veteran and beloved figure who credited smoking cigars and drinking whiskey daily for his long life.
/ Source: TODAY

Richard Overton, the nation's oldest living World War II veteran and a beloved figure who credited smoking cigars and drinking whiskey for his longevity, died at 112 on Thursday.

The U.S. Army veteran, also believed to be the oldest living man in the U.S., passed away at a rehab facility in his hometown of Austin, Texas.

Richard Overton
Richard Overton, who was the nation's oldest living World War II veteran, has died at 112. AP

He had recently been hospitalized with pneumonia, family member Shirley Overton, whose husband was Richard's caretaker, told The Associated Press.

Overton became a sensation in Austin in his later years, which included serving as the grand marshal of the annual Veteran's Day parade in 2016.

"Richard Overton is an American icon and a Texas legend,'' Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement Thursday. "With his quick wit and kind spirit he touched the lives of so many, and I am deeply honored to have known him."

Overton also became known for his unorthodox keys to living a long life, which he shared with TODAY's Craig Melvin during a visit to his home four years ago.

He said he smoked 12 to 13 cigars a day and made sure to drink milk and eat some butter pecan ice cream every night. He also enjoyed a splash of whiskey in his morning coffee.

"When you put that whiskey in there, it makes your muscles get warm,'' he told Craig.

He lived in the same house in Austin for more than 70 years after purchasing it for $4,000 after the war, where he served as a corporal in Hawaii, Guam and Iwo Jima.

Overton was a skilled sharpshooter with the all-black 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalion after volunteering for the Army in 1942 following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

"I'm still a sharpshooter,'' he told Craig. "Learned to shoot way back yonder."

His military service also earned him a meeting with President Obama at the White House when he turned 107.

"He was there at Pearl Harbor, when the battleships were still smoldering," Obama said of Overton at the time. "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 decorated Army veteran was born on May 11, 1906, and was eight years old when World War I started. He still had memories of soldiers returning to his hometown in Texas following the first World War.

Overton, who outlived two wives and had a 90-year-old girlfriend when Craig visited him, lived life to the fullest right up to the end.

"I don't think about (death),'' he told Craig. "You can't do anything about that. It's gonna come whether you want it or not. Just got to think about living."