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Ray Chavez, Oldest Pearl Harbor Survivor Dies at 106

 In History, Veterans

Ray Chavez was considered the oldest military survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941. He passed away in his sleep on November 21 after a battle with pneumonia at the age of 106.

December 7, 1941

Assigned to the Minesweeper Condor (AMc-14) in 1941, his ship was believed to be the first to make contact with the enemy when they encountered the periscope of a Japanese mini-submarine lurking near Pearl Harbor at around 0350 at 0357. After notifying the Destroyer USS Ward, the ship returned to Pearl and Chavez went to his nearby home. The USS Ward searched for the sub and destroyed it shortly before the Japanese planes attacked.

The Minesweeper Condor, 1941

Minutes after going to bed, his wife awakened him to tell him they were being attacked.

The Hill reported,

“Chavez went home to sleep after an all-night shift, but was quickly woken by his wife.

“It seemed like I only slept about 10 minutes when she called me and said, ‘We’re being attacked,’” he recalled in 2016. “And I said, ‘Who is going to attack us?’”

“She said, ‘The Japanese are here, and they’re attacking everything.’”

Chavez would work around the clock the following week to put out the flames and suffered for years after from post-traumatic stress disorder, refusing to talk about the attack.”

Fast Forward

Like many veterans of that day at Pearl Harbor, the sights, smells, and sounds haunted Ray Chavez. He was never physically wounded, but the memories were difficult for him.

“I still feel a loss. We were all together. We were friends and brothers. I feel close to all of them.” Ray Chavez in 2016

After the attack, Chavez was assigned to the USS La Salle, a transport ship that ferried troops, tanks and other equipment to  islands across the South Pacific, including Guadalcanal and Okinawa.

Mr Chavez was honored at the White House in May, 2018.

The New York Post reported,

Still, he would not talk about Pearl Harbor for decades. Then, on a last-minute whim, he decided to return to Hawaii in 1991 for ceremonies marking the attack’s 50th anniversary.

“Then we did the 55th, the 60th, the 65th and the 70th, and from then on we went to every one,” his daughter recalled, adding that until Chavez’s health began to fail he had planned to attend this year’s gathering next month.

Born March 12, 1912, in San Bernardino, California, to Mexican immigrant parents, Chavez moved to San Diego as a child, where his family ran a wholesale flower business. He joined the Navy in 1938.

In his later years, as he became well known as the attack’s oldest military survivor, he’d be approached at memorial services and other events and asked for his autograph or to pose for pictures. He always maintained that those events were not about him, however, but about those who gave their lives.

“He’d just shrug his shoulders and shake his head and say, ‘I was just doing my job,’ ” said his daughter. “He was just a very nice, quiet man. He never hollered about anything, and he was always pleasant to everybody.”

Thank you for your service, Ray Chavez. Fair Winds and Following Seas.

Featured photo:

Ray Chavez, the oldest living Pearl Harbor survivor and his daughter Kathleen Chavez, last year attended a naval heritage event to remember Pearl Harbor at Naval Base San Diego. He died on Wednesday at the age of 106. (MC3 Reymundo A. Villegas III/Navy)

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