Oldest Known Pearl Harbor Survivor Dies At 106
The oldest known Pearl Harbor survivor has died at his home in Poway. Ray Chavez died in his sleep early Wednesday morning, his daughter said. He was 106.
Born in San Bernardino, Chavez was assigned to the minesweeper U.S.S Condor in December 1941. He wrapped up an overnight shift just hours before the attack on Pearl Harbor. His crew made the first enemy contact that day, spotting a periscope of a Japanese submarine in the harbor and then blowing it up.
In a 2015 interview with KPBS, Chavez recounted how his wife ran into their bedroom to tell him about the attack. "And I said, ‘Who’s being attacked?’ I was half asleep. And she said, ‘We are. The Japanese are attacking the harbor,” he said.
He described looking out his front door at the scene. “The whole harbor is on fire, and smoke is all over the harbor, too,” he said.
Chavez served throughout World War II, but retired from the Navy in 1945, because his psychological wounds were too much to bear.
“I got discharged, and it took about three years to get over it,” Chavez said. It took him 50 years to be able to talk about the attack and to return to Pearl Harbor.
“I didn’t want to go because I knew I would get quite depressed,” Chavez said in another interview in 2017.
Once he did make the trip, he returned nearly every year, and also attended other memorial events around the country. One of them brought him to the White House last May, and was commemorated in a tweet by President Trump's social media director.
Chavez said he was proud of his service, but also said, "I don’t feel like a hero, I really don’t. To me, it’s just part of life.”