updated 12/15/2013 AT 4:30 PM ET
•originally published 12/13/2013 AT 6:00 PM ET
The lives of Richard Overton and Elmer Hill bear so many similarities – they’re both 107-year-old black men from Texas who served in the Pacific during World War II – that it’s a shock their paths never crossed over the years.
Now, thanks to one Austin eldercare facility, the two men, thought to be America’s oldest veterans, have met for the first time.
At an event sponsored by Emeritus Senior Living, where Hill lives, the pair swapped memories and made various quips about their advanced age.
“I’m not that old. I’ve just been here a long time,” Hill told reporters.
Though both men fought in segregated units in the same theater of World War II, their experiences of the war were otherwise different. Overton, the older of the two by a matter of months, volunteered and served with the 188th Aviation Engineer Battalion. Hill was drafted, and worked as a cook and a gunner on an aircraft carrier.
Black troops were usually placed in service duties at the beginning of World War II, though the demand for troops meant that many saw combat by the end of the war.
After VJ-Day, Hill returned to his job as a high-school principal, while Overton worked in a furniture store and as a courier for the Texas state Capitol.
Aging, Overton told reporters, was its own particular challenge.
“You’re still fighting a war, you know,” he said. “Now you’re just fighting one with yourself.”
– The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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