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Secrets to a Long Life from the World's Happiest (and Oldest) War Veteran


At 112, Mr. Overton still drives his own truck and smokes 12 cigars a day.

Our age is obsessed with health and longevity: we’re flooded with advertising about diets and life programs for achieving more, making more of life, being healthier and for being happier. But at 112, war veteran Richard Arvin Overton seems to laugh at all of us from behind a smile that’s more vital than those of billionaires and movie stars.

Born in 1906, Richard Arvin Overton is, at this writing, recognized as the longest-serving war veteran in the United States. He’s lived in the same house, in Austin, Texas, since the end of World War II when he settled there permanently.

Richard Arvin Overton in uniform

In interviews and films made about him, Overton is sincere and jovial. His character contrasts with his memories of his time at war: “Man’s gonna kill ya, but God’s gonna keep you alive.”

What everyone wants to know are Overton’s secrets to living longer. Is it a special diet or an exercise routine? It might be said that the idea of ​ “routine” is important to living over 100 years: Overton lives in the same house simply because he’s happy there. He drives the same 1979 Ford F-100 pickup truck. Instead of buying a newer model, he repairs it, and keeps it going. His first car, after all, was a Ford Model-T.

Despite his remaining an active member of his community, Overton smokes 12 cigars a day. He warns that one doesn’t have to inhale. Just taste the smoke and blow it back out. It’s a method he describes as “the healthy way.”

Getting up at dawn, when his body tells him to, he drinks four cups of coffee. As to food, he loves milk, fish, corn, and canned soup. Perhaps his secret is to eat ice cream every night, simply “because it makes you happy.” His favorite flavor is butter pecan.

Another source of his daily happiness are his cats which, he affirms, don’t need to be fed excessively. Otherwise, they’ll lose the impulse to hunt mice.

Although he doesn’t consider himself a religious person, Overton affirms the importance of a spiritual life. It’s “good to have a spiritual life, but you gotta live it. It makes you feel better.”  In his own case, the spiritual life is connected to the church in his community where he’s “learned to live better, how to treat people” along with the singing and music.

Overton’s routines don’t seem very different from those of thousands of other people. Perhaps his secret lies in the attitude with which he faces life: “If you give up, you’re through! You just doubting yourself.” He adds that:

My time is not here. And I do not know when I come here, and I do not know when I’m going. You neither … Neither one of us know when we are going. I may give out, but I never give up.

Richard Overton in modern day

As his nearest relatives have passed away, a GoFundMe campaign was set up to help with Overton’s care, and to which you can contribute.


Images: 1) Sharada Prasar – flickr 2) Public domain 3) LuizCent – Creative Commons

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