106-year-old Ray Chavez Is The Oldest Living Pearl Harbor Survivor
At 106, Raymond Barron Chavez, son of Mexican immigrant parents, is the oldest living survivor of the Dec 7th attack on Pearl Harbor.
Although he is now admired by presidents and has his own US Postal stamp, Ray's beginnings were humble.
Ray was born on March 10th, 1912. As a young man in the 1920's and 30's, Ray and his parents worked as migrant laborers in the fruit and vegetable fields of California. Both of his parents died young: his mother from exhaustion; his father from untreated illness, probably cancer.
Ray married, worked as a gardener, and started his own small family before joining the Navy at 27. His first assignment? The Minesweeper USS Condor in Pearl Harbor.
On December 6th, 1941, Ray was one of the very first sailors to spy the enemy submarine during his minesweeping shift aboard the Condor. But he had no idea what was in store.
The next morning, at home asleep after his shift, Ray was woken by his wife's screams: "We're being attacked!"
He still remembers the attack as if it were yesterday: “The whole harbor was on fire,” he said, "The oil and grease was on fire in the water and all the sailors that were alive were trying to save themselves." Ray rushed in to help.
Over 2,400 Americans died that day. “He thinks they’re the real heroes,” said his daughter, Kathleen Chavez, a 20-year Navy veteran herself. “He doesn’t want people to ever forget.”
Ray went on to survive 8 more battles stationed aboard transport ship the La Salle. And he's still going strong at 106.
The nation's oldest living Pearl Harbor survivor, Ray Chavez, celebrated a birthday this week. He turned 106 years old. Happy Birthday, Ray! ???????????????? pic.twitter.com/RU511tv6wT— American History (@TodayInAmHist) March 15, 2018
“I just keep going,” he says.
Ray didn't need a cane until 97, glasses until 98, or a hearing aid until he hit 101. His secret? No booze or cigarettes, getting lots of sleep, and eating well (steak and sopa are two of his favorites).
And he's been going to the gym every day since he turned 100.
In 2009, Ray was interviewed by the Library of Congress to preserve his vivid memory of the day.
“He’s a very humble man. You call him a hero and he’ll tell you, ‘No, I was just doing my job.’”