Richard Overton, 107, arrives at Washington's Reagan National Airport Sunday. Overton is set to meet with President Obama on Monday.(Photo: H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY)
Greg Toppo, USA TODAY
Richard Overton survived Pearl Harbor, fought at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, has lived to be 107 years old and on Monday earned a standing ovation led by the commander in chief, President Obama.
"This is the life of one American veteran living proud and strong in the land he helped keep free," Obama told an appreciative crowd during a Veterans Day address at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Overton, a Texan who had met Obama earlier in the day at a White House breakfast, said during a brief telephone interview that he was honored by the attention.
"It went all right," Overton said. "I hope he keeps on talking some good words about me."
As Americans across the nation paid tribute to veterans, Obama said "we will never forget" those who fought, bled and died for their country, even as the nation moves past wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"As commander in chief, I'm going to keep making sure we're providing unprecedented support to our veterans," Obama said.
NEWS: Oldest living WWII vet to meet with Obama
Pledging help with jobs, education and health care, Obama said, "When we talk about fulfilling our promises to our veterans, we don't just mean for a few years. We mean now, tomorrow and forever."
Obama said his team is working to reduce the oft-criticized backlog of claims at the Veterans Administration: "We've slashed it by a third since March, and we're going to keep at it, so you can get the benefits that you have earned and that you need, when you need them."
Before his remarks, Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, honoring all those who have given their lives to defend the nation.
Elsewhere, Americans honored veterans in a variety of ways, including parades and barbecues, from Florida to California.
•In New York City, the military's first female four-star general Ann Dunwoody, who retired last year after a 37-year career in the Army served as grand marshal for the Big Apple's annual Veterans Day Parade.
•In Enid, Okla., Col. Lee Ellis, a retired soldier who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war, spoke at the dedication of a new Vietnam Memorial Wall.
•The Veterans Day parade in Las Vegas paid tribute to nearby Nellis Air Force Base, where budget cuts had forced a cancellation of its popular air show.
•A ceremony at the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum in Washington honored a pair of original Tuskegee Airmen.
During his remarks at Arlington Cemetery, Obama spoke of the nation's newest veterans in noting that U.S. combat operations have ended in Iraq and are coming to an end in Afghanistan.
"Even though this time of war is coming to a close," the president said, "our time of service to our newest veterans has only just begun."
During his tribute to Overton, Obama told all veterans, "We will stand by your side, whether you're seven days out or, like Richard, 70 years out."
Obama noted that the 107-year-old African-American man who served in a segregated unit returned to a racially divided nation in which "his service on the battlefield was not always matched by the respect that he deserved at home."
After a career that included work as a courier in the Texas State Capitol where he served four governors Overton made his first visit to Washington earlier this year, Obama said. The resident of Austin visited the World War II and Martin Luther King Jr. memorials.
Obama said Overton wept when he visited the King memorial, and so did others as they watched "one of the oldest living veterans of World War II bear witness to a day to the progress of a nation he thought might never come."
After the ceremony, Overton said he appreciated the president's remarks.
"It made me feel like I was somebody," he said.