Ray Chavez is the oldest survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack that gave America the entry into World War II in 1941.
At 106, the untiring veteran has been travelling around the country for years, attending memorial services and commemorations. This week he met President Donald Trump in the Oval Office while in Washington for a series of Memorial Day events.
Ahead of the Memorial Day weekend, Chavez recollected his experience on the day that President Franklin Roosevelt announced “would live in infamy.”
December 7, 1941
Chavez was a quartermaster stationed in Pearl Harbor at the time when Japan attacked Hawaii, staying there with his wife and eldest daughter. He was allocated to a minesweeper, the Condor, that, while on patrol had identified a Japanese submarine closeby the restricted waters on the morning of December 7 before going back to the
“I had told (my wife), I didn’t want to be awakened because I had been (out) all night, and I was very tired, and I wanted to get some sleep,” Chavez said. “After she saw the beginning of the war, she went and called me, and I couldn’t believe what she was telling me. And after her pleading with me to get up, let’s see. I finally broke down and
went up, and sure enough, she was right.
“And so, (there were) all the ships on fire, and a terrible smoke screen all through the harbor, covering it, and ships, all the adjoining area,” he recounted.
On being asked how much frequently he thinks about that day and his military service, Chavez quickly replied.
“Every day. And not hysterical or mean thoughts about it — it was great. But it never goes away. All of what you see and learned.”
Chavez was born in San Bernardino, California and was brought up in San Diego, where he retired afterwards after the war was over. He said that his wife had encouraged him to join the Navy.
“I was married at that time, and my wife encouraged me because she liked the Navy, and was more or less a Navy wife, and she wanted me to join. And then at the end of the war, she wanted me to stay in the Navy, but I had too much war already, and I got out,” he said.
Chavez said that “discipline” was the most important lesson he learned from his service and also he enjoyed the companionship he gained from his fellow soldiers.
“It’s quite a pleasure to meet new people and enjoy their company, and that’s what happened to me,” he said.
Still keen and smart, the centenarian quipped, “I would do it again if I was called to active duty – but chances are they’ll never. “