San Diego man is oldest survivor of Pearl Harbor attack

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — The nation is preparing to observe the 76th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which propelled the United States into World War II.

A San Diego man who is attending the memorial is going to be honored at the ceremonies in Honolulu this week.

At age 105, Ray Chavez is the oldest survivor of the attack which occurred on the morning of December 7, 1941.

In an interview with KUSI, Chavez recounted what he saw that day. Chavez was assigned to a Navy minesweeper and had just come back home after an all-nighter on the ship. His wife woke him that morning, with the news that Japanese planes were bombing the area. He remembers seeing fires in the harbor and the smoke-filled skies.

"You couldn’t see the ships that were on fire and the oil that they carried for fuel, it caught fire and all you could see was black smoke," Chavez recalled.

Just a few hours before the aerial offensive, Chavez said his crew had seen a submarine in restricted waters. Although this sighting was reported to his command, he said no one seemed to realize at the time, that it was part of a much larger scheme to attack the United States.

Chavez would later be assigned to an attack transport, responsible for taking troops in and out of combat zones in the South Pacific. When he was discharged in 1945, Chavez returned to San Diego, and worked as a landscaper, while raising his family. His daughter Kathleen said her father did not talk about his war experiences for 50 years.

It was not until the 50th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, that Chavez decided to break his silence. He attended the commemoration in Hawaii that year and has participated in the remembrance ceremonies in Oahu for each of the last five years.

Ray Chavez does not like to talk too much about his feelings, however, he was clear about one thing; he would not hesitate to fight for his country again.

Of survivors like her father, Kathleen Chavez said, "They deserve every ounce of adulation and respect because if it wasn’t for them, we’d be living in a whole, totally different United States and most people don’t even stop to think about that."

The Spirit of Liberty Foundation in San Diego is hosting a bell ringing ceremony in Honolulu on Wednesday, December 6. Chavez will be the guest of honor. He’ll also be riding on the Foundation’s float for the official Pearl Harbor parade on December 7.

Chavez is scheduled to leave from San Diego’s Lindbergh Field on Tuesday morning.

Categories: Local San Diego News