By Lisa Ferdinando, ARNEWSNovember 12, 2013
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 12, 2013) -- On Veterans Day, President Barack Obama and the Army honored 107-year-old Army veteran Richard Overton, hailed as the oldest living World War II veteran.
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John F. Campbell said Overton volunteered for service in 1942, and was a member of the Army's 188th Aviation Engineer Battalion, an all-black unit that served on various islands in the Pacific.
Overton arrived in Washington, D.C., Nov. 10, from Austin, Texas.
Overton, who was escorted by a Marine, was greeted at the airport by members of the military, including a group of Coast Guardsmen, and cheering, flag-waving members of the public who hugged him and thanked him for his service.
He was a special guest at the White House for a Veterans Day breakfast, and also attended the Veterans Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
"On Veterans Day I want to thank our dedicated men and women in uniform for their service and sacrifice," Campbell said. "The strength of today's Army is drawn from a diverse, all-volunteer force and is a reflection of our great nation."
"Our Soldiers represent the best in our society, and while the nation calls them veterans, they will always remain a 'Soldier for Life,'" he said.
Campbell and his wife Ann attended the Veterans Day event at Arlington National Cemetery, in honor of all those who served, both past and present. Overton was seated next to them.
Overton's proud service to the nation was recognized by Obama, Campbell noted.
"During comments at the Arlington National Cemetery amphitheater, the president stated, 'this is the life of one American veteran, living proud and strong in the land he helped keep free,'" Campbell said.
Obama said the nation owes respect and support to veterans like Overton.
"He was there at Pearl Harbor, when the battleships were still smoldering. 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 president said at the event.
When the war ended, Overton returned to Texas to a nation bitterly divided by race, Obama said.
"His service on the battlefield was not always matched by the respect that he deserved at home," the president said.
"But this veteran held his head high. He carried on and lived his life with honor and dignity. He built his wife a house with his own two hands," Obama said.
After the war, Overton returned to work in the furniture business and served as a courier in the Texas State Capitol.
"He worked for four governors, and made more friends than most of us do in a lifetime," said Obama.
Overton wept when he visited the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in a trip earlier this year to Washington, D.C., said Obama. People around him wept too, said the president, as they saw Overton bear witness to a day and the progress of a nation that he thought might never come.
"We are honored that he's here with us today," said Obama.