It was my honor to recently speak with 104-year-old Ray Chavez, the nation’s oldest survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
This is the short story I wrote about Chavez for the USAA insurance company’s Memorial Day online package to honor U.S. military veterans.
75 Years After Attack: Survivor Still Mourning Losses at Pearl Harbor
In the early hours of Dec. 7, 1941, Seaman 1st Class Ray Chavez was asleep at home after a minesweeping mission during which his crew sank an enemy midget submarine. His wife woke him with word of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Chavez raced to the besieged, burning harbor and did not leave again for more than a week. Then, he spent the next half-century avoiding discussions of the horrors he witnessed.
This year, Chavez, now 104, plans to return to Pearl Harbor as the oldest living veteran of the bombing raid that killed 2,400 Americans and drew the U.S. into World War II.
The California resident has revisited Pearl Harbor several times in the past 25 years. But as time thins the brotherhood, Chavez knows this anniversary, the 75th, will likely be his last.
Fewer than 2,000 Pearl Harbor survivors remain. Chavez was one of only seven able to attend last year’s commemoration.
“I still feel a loss,” Chavez says. “We were all together. We were friends and brothers. I feel close to all of them.”
Since attending the 50th anniversary commemoration, Chavez has returned often to represent his brothers and “to hear what important people say about our men who were lost on that day.”
A regular guest of honor at Memorial Day and veterans ceremonies near his home, Chavez keeps fit by working out three times a week at a local gym and remains humbled by his status as one of the last Pearl Harbor survivors.
“I am proud to have survived this long,” Chavez says. “It is an honor. Very much so.”
The final college farewell for my children, yes, unless either of them surprise and wind up in grad school. But in the truest definition, my boy finally will commence to get on with whatever is next for him – which in the immediate aftermath is a trip to Iceland with his sister.
I can say the usual astonished parental things – wow, where did the time go? I can’t believe it – but no, really, I can believe it. The past seven years of University of Virginia experience have been wonderful, but that course has been run, and run well.
He knows, we know, that day is done.
Just as she was, he is ready and eager to head on down the road – likely westward toward the Rockies or perhaps the Pacific expanse. Doubtful that an extended detour through Thailand and Southeast Asia are in his cards, as they were hers, but something equally spontaneous out of him would hardly shock me.
I don’t lay claim to inspiring that spirit of adventure in them; I stayed in the same job 31 years, the same house 20-plus. They come by their world view and their thirst to go see, feel and taste honestly and through their own inspirations. If anything, they – and certainly the lovely and awesome Dee — have helped motivate my own commencement. Have helped me shake the inertia of routine and mindless comfort, the torpor of fear as well, and replace it with open-ended possibility.
Fresh eyes scan our horizons. Full hearts guide our next steps. We’ll gather tomorrow to recognize the miles covered, seal them in their special corner, and embrace boundlessness with its deserved gratitude and grace.
This is the day 51 years ago (!) that 20-year-old Pete Townshend of The Who supposedly wrote “My Generation” on a train.
Released in November of 1965, it is rightfully regarded as one of the most memorable and influential rock songs ever, a clear – and gleefully distorted — beacon toward the coming of the punk-rock era.
So why did Roger Daltrey add stuttering to his delivery – f-f-f-fade away … d-d-d-dig … s-s-s-say? I’ve never investigated, just figured it was one of those artistic whims that I thought worked, incidentally. The device obviously adds to the song’s indelible character.
I didn’t take it as a spoof or a mocking of stutterers, fears of which reportedly kept the BBC from initially playing the record. But as a stutterer, I always kind of wondered what that was all about.
Fifty-one years later, the answer is as clear as mud, of course.
The alleged reasons, per the Wikipedia machine, vary from the song aping old bluesman John Lee Hooker’s “Stuttering Blues,” to Daltrey being unprepared to record the song and stumbling through the lyrics – which is a crock of Wiki-nonsense – to the cheeky intimation of F-word profanity.
I will lay it at the feet of the mystical inspiration that springs from the likes of then-21-year-old artists like Daltrey.
What’s funny is, as most people know, stutterers don’t stutter when they sing. My impediment spiked from mild to severe through my youth, which is why singing in the school chorus and church choir became such an oasis – aside from the girly boy teasing issues that inevitably cropped up. (Always something, right?)
But I remember realizing that the stutter vanished to music as an early fascination. I never understood it, and probably still don’t fully grasp it, although it certainly involves proper breathing technique. That was one of the keys I learned during some intensive therapy I took as an adult.
Alas, any music fan knows stuttering has been used forever as a singing device. Think of George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone,” “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive, David Bowie’s “Changes,” and “Bennie and the Jets” by Elton John. There are plenty more. The stutter is rhythmic. Effective. Memorable.
Funny I never thought that, though, under the death stare of a telephone receiver . . .
This is one of my last feature stories I did for Old Dominion as a full-timer there. It’s one of my favorites. And it’s an example of some of the brilliant young people who come through the university. I saw that all the time. Stunning talent, achievement and potential in this world. Thanks for checking it out.
The half-dollar tumbled across Josiah Emery’s knuckles like a brook over pebbles. It disappeared into his right palm, then bucking gravity, shot up into his hovering left palm.
Desperately trying to follow Emery’s steady patter and slick fingerwork, an observer was dazzled moments later to see Emery’s hands empty – and the coin perched on the observer’s shoulder.
Emery flashed a Cheshire smile through his bushy beard.
“You have to hit an audience quick,” said Emery, who has entertained as a magician and balloon artist for more than a decade. “If they don’t like your first 10 seconds, they’re probably not going to like you.”
For his next trick, Emery will graduate from Old Dominion University on May 6 with bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering and applied mathematics.
“Josiah is fun, he is bright and he is one of the best students I’ve had the last few years,” said John Adam, professor of mathematics and statistics at Old Dominion. “Plus, he’s a really good magician.”
Emery regularly performs coin, card and balloon tricks at events like birthday parties, after proms and even before Monarch football games, where his mother, Christine, is a face-painting clown on Kaufman Mall. Emery picked up the entertaining bug from her as a child, but as a magician and balloon artist he is mostly self-taught.
And accomplished. Emery proudly shows off a thick photo book of his balloon animals and other figures, including his masterpiece, an intricate Star Wars X-Wing fighter plane that took him eight hours to complete.
“Balloons are connected to engineering in a way,” Emery said. “I have a sort of photographic memory when it comes to balloons. If you know all the basic twists and you can see those parts in the completed figure, you can just reverse-engineer it in your head.”
Looking forward, Emery will proceed in his quest to become an aerospace engineer at Georgia Tech beginning in August. The university awarded Emery a full scholarship and a $26,000 annual stipend to be a research assistant.
The valedictorian of his class at Churchland High School in Portsmouth, Emery entered Old Dominion with numerous Advanced Placement and college credits. He took two levels of calculus as a high-school junior and other advanced math at Tidewater Community College before arriving at ODU.
When he completed the requirements for his mechanical engineering degree in three years, Emery, whose father, Brian, is a retired Coast Guard warrant officer, added math as a second major.
In his “free” time, Emery is a ravenous reader – the classics to superhero comic books to a tome on math’s “millennium prize problems” – and an active tutor. He noticed that the campus lacked an undergraduate tutoring lab for mechanical engineering students, so he helped start one.
“Josiah is an example that Old Dominion engineering gets top-end students on the same par as anywhere,” said Colin Britcher, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.
“He’s obviously as smart as anyone Georgia Tech is looking at, and that’s one of the best engineering schools in the world,” Britcher continued. “He helps other students in a way to see what’s possible and what they can aspire to.”
Emery does that not only by being academically brilliant, Britcher said, but by modeling enthusiastic communication skills. It’s only natural, because his act requires a steady stream of stage banter.
That engages his audience. But it also distracts observers so that they never notice, for example, the half-dollar when it leaves Emery’s hand and winds up on their shoulder.
“I like to tell a story with each trick; I don’t want to just say ‘Pick a card; is this your card?’ ” Emery said. “That’s lame. If you set the presentation around the trick, it takes the heat off the thing you don’t want people to think about.”
Emery’s intellect, eager curiosity and outgoing personality lead him to find fascination – even magic — in most anything he thinks about.
“I’m a little off the wall, I guess,” Emery said. “But I think it’s important to stay well-rounded.”
Here’s something I wrote for UVA magazine about my old beat, Cavalier hoops. You might have heard they
experienced a hellacious heartbreaker against Syracuse to end their season.
This gives you an idea of the pain, but also the amazing progress the program has made under coach Tony Bennett.
Heartbreak ends Men’s Basketball season marked
by TOM ROBINSON
It still stings a little. Probably always will.
All those victories, all those visions of a national basketball championship vanished in a haunting flash that
evening in Chicago.
Virginia’s 29-8 men’s basketball record and No. 1 NCAA tournament seeding, now bittersweet reminders of what might have been, of what almost was in the regional final, one step from the Final Four.
A grand beginning. A gruesome end: Syracuse—68-62.
“Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning,” coach Tony Bennett, quoting a psalmist, told his team immediately after the harsh defeat. The Cavaliers led by 15 points with less than 10 minutes to play.
“We will have some tough nights,” Bennett said, “because you’re so close you could taste it.”
So close, that is, to savoring Virginia’s third Final Four and its first since 1984.
So close to reaching 30 victories for the third consecutive season.
As it is, 89 Cav victories over three years is a school record.
Let that steep; 89 victories, and two regular-season Atlantic Coast Conference titles, in three seasons. This from a basketball program that, in 14 seasons preceding Bennett’s arrival from Washington State in 2009, had won 20 games just twice.
Under Bennett, the Cavs doubled their victory total—15 his first season to 30—and burnished their stubborn profile as one of the nation’s most deliberate offensive and relentless defensive squads.
The Cavaliers are careful, averaging no more than 10 turnovers the last three seasons, and tempo-controlling. In that same time, they have ranked first or second for fewest points allowed per game, and in the bottom six in fewest possessions per game.
If not a widely popular style, it is seriously efficient, and appreciated in Charlottesville. When the Cavaliers force a shot-clock violation, no arena erupts in a gleeful din like John Paul Jones.
Preaching his “five pillars” belief system of humility, passion, unity, servanthood and thankfulness, Bennett finds athletes who fit his formula. Players such as this year’s seniors—Malcolm Brogdon (Col ’15, Batten ’16), Anthony Gill (Col ’15), Mike Tobey (Col ’16), Evan Nolte (Col ’16) and walk-on Caid Kirven (Com ’16)—willing to grind away in the practice gym toward the promise of something greater.
This year, that meant finishing runner-up to national finalist North Carolina in the ACC tournament. Still, on the strength of a schedule that included an early season rout of eventual champion Villanova, UVA earned a No.1 NCAA seeding for the second time in three years.
Virginia entered the madness of March boasting the ACC’s player of the year, Brogdon, whom the Associated Press also named first-team All-American. UVA has had just one other first-teamer; Ralph Sampson Jr. (Col ’83), of course, more than 30 years ago.
This year, the Cavaliers seemed to catch a huge break when in the first round, second-seeded Michigan State, which bounced them from the last two tournaments and again loomed in their path, got bounced instead.
Virginia’s road to the Final Four in Houston became clearer: Hampton, Butler and Iowa State fell. Then on Easter Sunday evening, 10th-seeded Syracuse, an ACC rival, had all but tumbled, too.
Fifteen points up, 9:30 to play.
What happened next had never before happened.
Not to Virginia under Tony Bennett.
In the coach’s seven seasons, the Cavs had never lost a game they led by double digits at halftime. Never.
Trailing Syracuse by six early, the ’Hoos closed the half on a 33-13 run that put them ahead 35-21.
With at least a 10-point intermission lead, UVA had been 68-0, with an average margin of victory of 22 points. In fact, only seven of those 68 contests ever ended with UVA winning by fewer than 10 points.
Which illustrates something else about Bennett’s Cavaliers, besides their humility and unity. They are stone-cold closers.
“We’ve just been trained to be mentally tough,” Brogdon said a couple weeks after the loss. “Coach Bennett prides himself on having the toughest team on the floor. The most mentally tough team will be able to keep a lead and keep executing down the stretch.”
Rules have exceptions, and on this night, the Cavaliers melted in the glare of the moment and the threat of rapidly shifting momentum.
The Orange made seven consecutive shots, two of them long 3-pointers, others uncharacteristically easy drives to the hoop. Syracuse desperately pressed Virginia, and in answer the Cavs made only two shots, missed three layups and lost the ball three times.
In just three minutes and 42 seconds, the Orange erased UVA’s 15-point lead and went ahead by one.
“At that moment, all you’re thinking is, ‘all right, we need one stop,’” Brogdon said. “Get a stop and let’s score. Let’s control the next possession, because that’s all we can really control. It never occurred to us that we would lose the lead and then lose the game.”
There were still nearly six minutes to play, after all. But Syracuse’s onslaught only continued. Eventually trailing by six, UVA managed to close to within two inside the last half-minute, and had a shot to tie the game with 12 seconds left.
It missed. It was over.
“It happens to the best, you tighten up,” Bennett told reporters in mid-April. “I thought we softened up [on defense] when we could’ve buckled down and gotten stops. Against Iowa State, we started wobbling a little bit, but fortunately we hit enough big shots to get ahead.
“When you have a big lead and it starts going like that, it’s tough. Plays need to be made late in a game. But you can’t score real quick against Syracuse’s zone, you have to be patient. And then you feel the clock against you and the pressure of the score. You certainly deal with all of those emotions.”
Point guard London Perrantes (Col ’17), who had 18 points in the game, wore UVA’s failure most openly on his sleeve.
“I’m sure looking back, you’ll see it was obviously successful,” he told reporters after the game, reflecting on UVA’s season. “But right now, I don’t feel that way.”
And yet, the weeping did soon subside.
In early April, the Cavaliers assembled again in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the wedding of Gill and Jenna Jamil. Teammates Brogdon, Perrantes, Devon Hall (Col ’17) and Darius Thompson (Col ’17) served as groomsmen.
But pages turn and stories continue. As Brogdon trains in anticipation of June’s NBA draft, Bennett and his staff plan a new season to meet the program’s heightened standards.
A season expected to be anchored by the leadership of Perrantes, the rising-senior point guard, maturing returners Hall, Thompson, Isaiah Wilkins (Col ’18) and Marial Shayock (Col ’18), and a handful of intriguing newcomers.
Junior transfer Austin Nichols (Col ’17), first team all-American Athletic Conference at Memphis two years ago as a sophomore, is a 6-foot-9 forward who becomes eligible, as is Mamadi Diakite (Col ’19), a redshirt freshman.
Incoming freshman Kyle Guy, a guard from Indianapolis, is UVA’s eleventh McDonald’s All-American and its first in eight years. Recruits Ty Jerome and DeAndre Hunter also were nominated for the same McDonald’s honor.
They all will convene in August for a 10-day trip through Spain, playing five games that will offer a very early glimpse of what excitement, and collective joy, may lie ahead.