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The oldest living U.S. military veteran still loves a cigar in the morning with shot of whiskey.
On Monday, 107-year-old Richard Overton ignored the frailties of his years and stood twice to be honored by President Obama and a crowd at Arlington National Cemetery for Veterans Day.
The Army World War II vet rose slowly at the mention of his name during Obama's address at the annual wreath-laying ceremony, and then stood once more at the president's request to loud applause from the crowd in the cemetery's amphitheater.
"Richard Overton, this American veteran, is 107 years old," Obama said, "and we are honored that he's here with us today. So let's ask Richard to stand again, because he can stand."
Overton, who attended a breakfast with other veterans earlier at the White House, served with the Army's all-black 188th Aviation Engineer Battalion during the island-hopping campaigns in the Pacific, Obama said.
"He was there at Pearl Harbor, when the battleships were still smoldering. He was there at Okinawa," Obama said. "He was there at Iwo Jima, where he said, 'I only got out of there by the grace of God.'"
After the war, Overton returned to Texas, where he worked in the furniture business and later as a courier in the Texas State Capitol, Obama said. The nation was divided by race, and his service on the battlefield was not always matched by the respect that he deserved at home, he said.
"But this veteran held his head high," Obama said. "He carried on and lived his life with honor and dignity. He built his wife a house with his own two hands."
In the State Capitol, Overton worked for four governors, "and made more friends than most of us do in a lifetime," Obama said. "This is the life of one American veteran, living proud and strong in the land he helped keep free."
In May, when Overton joined a veterans' group touring the Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial in Washington, D.C., he told reporters, "War's nothing to be into."
He added, "You don't want to go to war if you don't have to. But I had to go. I enjoyed it after I'd went and come back, but I didn't enjoy it when I was over there. I had to do things I didn't want to do."
Overton also told reporters the secret to his longevity -- he still starts his day with a cigar and a "tablespoon" of whiskey in his coffee.
Obama used the occasion to remind the nation of the war in Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of American troops are still serving tours. While U.S.-led combat mission is scheduled to end in late 2014, the country has an obligation to take care of returning troops long afterward.
"Our troops wear the uniform for a time, yet they wear another proud title, the title of 'veteran,' for decades, for the rest of their lives," Obama said.
"As a nation, we make sure we have the best-led, best-trained, best-equipped military in the world," he said. "We have to devote just as much energy and passion to making sure we have the best-cared for, best-treated, best-respected veterans in the world."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
|Veterans Day Veterans Barack Obama Richard Sisk|