Oldest US military survivor of Pearl Harbor dies at age 106

Ray Chavez
this Monday, Dec. 5, 2016 photo, Ray Chavez, a Pearl Harbor
survivor from Poway, Calif., pauses while eating breakfast in
Honolulu. Chavez was out on a minesweeper, the USS Condor, in the
early hours before the attack. Chavez is among a few dozen
survivors of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor who plan to
gather at the Hawaii naval base, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, to
remember those killed 75 years ago.

Audrey McAvoy/AP

  • Ray Chavez, the oldest US military survivor of the
    Pearl Harbor attack that plunged the country into World War II,
    died at 106.
  • Chavez, who had been battling pneumonia, died in his
    sleep in San Diego.
  • In May, he traveled to Washington, D.C., where he was
    honored on Memorial Day by President Donald Trump.
  • The White House tweeted a statement Wednesday saying it
    was saddened to hear of his passing.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Ray Chavez, the oldest U.S. military survivor
of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor that plunged the
United States into World War II, died Wednesday. He was 106.

Chavez, who had been battling pneumonia, died in his sleep in the
San Diego suburb of Poway, his daughter, Kathleen Chavez, told
The Associated Press.

As recently as last May he had traveled to Washington, D.C.,
where he was honored on Memorial Day by President Donald Trump.
The White House tweeted a statement Wednesday saying it was
saddened to hear of his passing.

“We were honored to host him at the White House earlier this
year,” the statement said. “Thank you for your service to our
great nation, Ray!”

Daniel Martinez, chief historian for the National Park Service at
Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, confirmed Wednesday that Chavez was the
oldest survivor of the attack that killed 2,335 U.S. military
personnel and 68 civilians.

“I still feel a loss,” Chavez said during 2016 ceremonies marking
the attack’s 75th anniversary. “We were all together. We were
friends and brothers. I feel close to all of them.”

Read more:
The Navy made incredible photos to show present-day Pearl Harbor
compared with the day of the attack

Hours before the attack, he was aboard the minesweeper USS Condor
as it patrolled the harbor’s east entrance when he and others saw
the periscope of a Japanese submarine. They notified a destroyer
that sunk it shortly before Japanese bombers arrived to strafe
the harbor.

By then Chavez, who had worked through the early morning hours,
had gone to his nearby home to sleep, ordering his wife not to
wake him because he had been up all night.

“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.’ ”

He ran back to the harbor to find it in flames.

Chavez would spend the next week there, working around the clock
sifting through the destruction that had crippled the U.S. Navy’s
Pacific fleet.

Later he was assigned to the transport ship USS La Salle,
ferrying troops, tanks and other equipment to war-torn islands
across the Pacific, from Guadalcanal to Okinawa.

Although never wounded, he left the military in 1945 suffering
from post-traumatic stress disorder that left him anxious and

Returning to San Diego, where he had grown up, he took a job as a
landscaper and groundskeeper, attributing the outdoors, a healthy
diet and a strict workout program that he continued into his
early 100s with restoring his health.

“He loved trees and he dearly loved plants and he knew everything
about a plant or tree that you could possibly want to know,” his
daughter said Wednesday with a chuckle. “And he finally retired
when he was 95.”

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

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.”

Chavez was preceded in death by his wife, Margaret. His daughter
is his only survivor.

Funeral services are pending.


Associated Press Writer Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu contributed to
his story.

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