Ray Chavez, the nation’s oldest veteran survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor, died at his California home Wednesday morning, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. He was 106.
Three years ago, fellow Pearl Harbor veterans recognized Chavez as the oldest survivor of the attack by the Japanese in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941, the newspaper reported. Chavez was a quartermaster on the USS Condor at the time of the attack, KSWB reported.
“Ray Chavez was a very active member for years (of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association) and I admired the man,” Stu Hedley, 97, a retired Navy chief petty officer who served on the USS West Virginia at the time of the attack, told the Union-Tribune.
Chavez was born in San Bernardino, California, in 1911 and grew up in San Diego, the newspaper reported. In 1938 he joined the Navy and was assigned to the USS Condor at Pearl Harbor.
At 3:45 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, Chavez’s crew was sweeping the east entrance to the harbor when they spotted the periscope of a Japanese midget submarine. After depth charges were dropped to sink the sub in 1,500 feet of water, the next few hours passed uneventfully.
He told the Union-Tribune that he was asleep in nearby Ewa Beach when the Japanese bombing raid began around 8 a.m.
“My wife ran in and said, ‘We’re being attacked’ and I said, ‘Who’s going to attack us? Nobody,’” Chavez told the newspaper. “She said that the whole harbor was on fire and when I got outside I saw that everything was black from all the burning oil.”
Chavez, who said the only Republican he ever voted for was Dwight D. Eisenhower, caused a minor stir in May when he was invited to meet President Donald Trump at the White House for Memorial Day, his daughter, Kathleen, told the Union-Tribune. The night before his Oval Office visit, Chavez was interviewed at his hotel by a CNN reporter and said on a video aired nationally about Trump: “I didn’t vote for that guy.”
However, Chavez impressed the president the next day, and Trump praised the veteran during the Memorial Day services. The White House tweeted its sympathies on Wednesday.
Chavez also met Secretary of Defense James Mattis and toured national monuments in May, KSWB reported.
Chavez did not mention the attack for many years, his daughter said, until he went to Hawaii for the 50th anniversary of the attack in 1991, the Union-Tribune reported.
“War. Being in right in the middle of it,” Chavez told KNSD while recalling his military career. “It was quite a surprise. I saw everything. Smoke and fire.”