Skip to main content

Listen

Read

Watch

Schedules

Programs

Events

Give

Account

Donation Heart Ribbon

America’s Oldest Pearl Harbor Survivor Turns 105

Photo by Susan Murphy

Ray Chavez, America's oldest Pearl Harbor survivor, talks about his plans to celebrate his birthday, March 9, 2017.

“I’m really excited because I never expected to live this long,” said Ray Chavez, America's oldest Pearl Harbor survivor. “I’m enjoying my old age. I really am."

America’s oldest Pearl Harbor survivor, Ray Chavez, turned 105 on Friday.

“I’m really excited because I never expected to live this long,” Chavez said from his home in Poway.

Chavez was born in San Bernardino, California, on March 10, 1912.

“I’m enjoying my old age. I really am,” he said. “People have been so very, very nice and helpful and that’s what makes me happy about being old.”

Age isn’t slowing him down one bit, he said. He still works out at the gym twice a week. He enjoys spending time outside and going to the beach.

“But I don’t swim anymore,” he chuckled.

Much of his time is dedicated to sharing firsthand accounts from 75 years ago when America was attacked at Pearl Harbor.

Photo by Susan Murphy

Pearl Harbor survivors Stu Hedley, left, and Ray Chavez attend a Spirit of 45 ceremony at the San Diego Veterans Museum in Balboa Park, Aug. 9, 2015.

“And all the men that were trying to save themselves jumping over the side of the ship,” Chavez recalled.

Chavez had wrapped up an overnight shift on the minesweeper USS Condor just hours before the stealthy attack. His crew made the first enemy contact when they spotted the periscope of a Japanese submarine in the harbor and had it blown up.

Chavez said it took him 50 years to talk about the traumatic day and to return to Pearl Harbor.

“I didn’t want to go because I knew I would get quite depressed,” Chavez said.

But he has returned just about every year since, including last year for the 75th anniversary. He said it brings him comfort to be there and to remember the 2,400 Americans who died that day.

“I like to go back just to think about them,” Chavez said. “It makes me feel like I’m with all those men that passed away and to let them know that I haven’t forgotten them.”

As the oldest Pearl Harbor survivor, Chavez attracts a lot of attention when he attends special events.

“I’m very proud that I served our country and did what little I could to help win the war,” Chavez said. “I don’t feel like a hero, I really don’t. To me, it’s just part of life.”

Chavez is being honored for his 105th birthday on Saturday with a patriotic concert aboard the USS Midway. He’s looking forward to celebrating with his friends and the community. His family is also holding another birthday party for him on Sunday.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.