On November 21, 2018, this country lost the oldest living survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7,1941.
Ray Chavez, the son of Mexican immigrant parents, was born in Los Angeles on March 12, 1912. He joined the United States Navy in 1938 at the age of 26. He passed away in his sleep on November 21, 2018 at the age of 106.
According to NBC, Chavez was stationed at Pearl Harbor on what was called a “day of infamy” by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In fact, hours before the attack came, he was serving on a minesweeper, the USS Condor, patrolling the east entrance of the harbor when they spotted the periscope of what would be determined later to be a Japanese mini-submarine.
The USS Condor notified a U.S. Navy destroyer that eventually sank that sub.
After this, Chavez went home, not far from the base at Pearl Harbor. He had been up all night. He went to bed and told his wife not to wake him up for anything.
He would report later that it felt like he had only been asleep for 10 minutes when he heard his wife screaming, “We’re being attacked!”
Chavez responded, “Who is going to attack us?”
She yelled at him, “The Japanese are here, and they’re attacking everywhere.”
Chavez made it back to the base as quickly as he could in the chaos and found it in flames. He would spend the next week working day and night helping to search through the debris of destruction for survivors and the dead.
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He would be later assigned to the USS La Salle, a transport ship carrying troops and supplies all throughout the Pacific, from Guadalcanal to Okinawa, where he saw and participated in some of the most vicious naval warfare in the Pacific war.
At the end of the war, in 1945, he left the Navy, but was suffering the effects of his wartime experiences. He was troubled for sometime with what would come to be known in our time as Post Traumatic Stress. He was constantly anxious and shaking.
Like many of his fellow combat veterans, Chavez did not talk much about his experiences in the war. But in 1991, he decided to attend the 50th anniversary ceremonies at Pearl Harbor. He attended from then on every 5 years up to the 75th anniversary in 2016.
He was hoping to go to the celebrations this year but his health began to fail.
After the war, Chavez began working outdoors in landscaping and groundskeeping jobs in his hometown of Los Angeles. He would later attribute his recovery and his longevity to his working outdoors, to eating right and to the habit of a daily workout program.
Ray Chavez belonged to what Tom Brokaw called America’s “Greatest Generation.” He was neither a famous or a wealthy man. He would not be easily recognized walking down the streets of that city of the rich and the famous, Los Angeles. But he was something more important than that. He was simply a hard working man, dedicated to his wife and family and to the simple wisdom of “doing his job” and doing it well.
He did that in the Navy during WWII and he did that over the long length of his life. But we will remember him. We will honor his service to the nation and for his earthy nobility.
The Veterans Site sends its condolences to the Chavez family. We raise a slow hand salute to his service and are humbled by the dignity with which he lived his life.
Learn more about Ray Chavez in the video below.
We thank you, Ray Chavez, for giving us all a great model for how to live a good life.
Rest in Peace, good Sailor. Rest in Peace.
Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.