Sunday, February 16, 2014 Longview News Journal
HENDERSON — Elmer Hill walks a mile a day around the Emeritus Senior Living facility in Henderson. That might not sound like a huge accomplishment to some, but Hill is 107 years old and the second-oldest World War II veteran in the country.
Richard Overton of Austin, also 107, is the oldest living veteran and three months Hill’s senior. The two men met for the first time in December.
“I’m not old,” Hill said Thursday. “I’ve just been here a long time. The Lord has blessed me, and now my only job is to eat and sleep.”
A reception is set Tuesday in Hill’s honor at Emeritus Assisted Living, and he will receive the keys to the city.
U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert is among the scheduled guests.
Susan Curnutt, activities director for Emeritus in Henderson, said Hill came to live at the facility more than three years ago, having lived alone in a small brick house on Van Buren Street for several years.
“He’s the oldest person I’ve ever met,” she said. “He’s brought so much joy to the other residents. They just enjoy listening to him talk. He loves bingo, exercise and goes on all of our bus rides around Rusk County. He’s something else!”
Born Aug. 20, 1906, Hill said he grew up “in the country” just outside Henderson.
He said his father raised him to farm, planting corn and cotton.
As one of 12 boys in his family, Hill said his parents made sure he and his brothers regularly attended Lone Star Baptist Church. At church is where Hill and his brothers, “The Hill Brothers Quartet,” would sing.
“We had vocal music being taught at our little country school,” he said. “I also learned to pick on the guitar. But we didn’t have the kind of instruments children have now. But I was one of the boys who had a guitar.”
“Picking” on the guitar is a hobby Hill said he still enjoys.
He graduated from Henderson Colored High School and went to Butler College to get his teaching certificate.
He said he couldn’t remember the year, but went on to teach mathematics at Henderson Colored High School, which is now named Hill High School.
“Back then, high schools went until 11th grade,” he said. “I became the principal before being drafted into the Navy.”
Stationed “in the middle of the ocean” on an aircraft carrier for two years during World War II, Hill said he was in charge of taking orders from the captain down to the men manning mounted machine guns.
“We had one man who would load the gun and another who would shoot it,” he said. “So the captain would have me tell them when and where to shoot.”
Once the war ended, Hill said he returned home to Northeast Texas.
He said he continued teaching students in Henderson, whom Curnutt said still visit him two or three times a week.
Hill and his wife, Atha, raised two children, who live in the Dallas area.
Ray Hill, 71, Elmer’s oldest child and only son, said he remembers visiting his grandparents’ farm where his father grew up, just three miles north of Henderson on U.S. 259.
He said he and his sister, Audrey, visit their father at his community in Henderson every Tuesday.
“I was the oldest grandchild, so I was involved with picking the corn and cotton. That might be why my dad is so healthy. They grew their own food and raised their own animals. I remember them raising livestock, pigs and hogs. I used to go and see them when the weather got cold and they would butcher and process the pigs.”
Ray said his father has always been his “rock and inspiration.”
“I thank God for having a father like him,” he said. “The older he gets the more his light shines. He has inspired other people to be just like him.”
Hill didn’t get angry about racial inequality in America during the days of segregation, his son said.
“My father has always been a deeply religious man,” he said. “He could always forgive and forget. He was wise enough to know that getting angry wasn’t going to solve anything.”
Ray said his father being recognized as one of the oldest living veterans has left him speechless at times.
“Words can’t express what it really means to me,” he said. “Sometimes it is just as surprising to me as it is to other people that he has blossomed into the celebrity he is today.”
When: 1:30 p.m. Monday
Where: Emeritus Senior Living facility, 1000 W Richardson Drive, Henderson