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.”