Oldest U.S. survivor of Pearl Harbor dies at 106

Daily News Article   —   Posted on December 6, 2018

(First published Nov. 23 by AP at SunJournal) LOS ANGELES — Ray Chavez, the oldest U.S. military survivor of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor that plunged the United States into World War II, died Wednesday, Nov. 21. He was 106.

Chavez, who had been battling pneumonia, died in his sleep in the San Diego suburb of Poway, his daughter, Kathleen Chavez, told The Associated Press.

As recently as last May he traveled to Washington, D.C., where he was honored on Memorial Day by President Trump. The White House tweeted a statement Wednesday saying it was saddened to hear of his passing.

“We were honored to host him at the White House earlier this year,” the statement said. “Thank you for your service to our great nation, Ray!”

Daniel Martinez, chief historian for the National Park Service at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, confirmed Wednesday that Chavez was the oldest survivor of the attack that killed 2,335 U.S. military personnel and 68 civilians.

“I still feel a loss,” Chavez said during 2016 ceremonies marking the attack’s 75th anniversary. “We were all together. We were friends and brothers. I feel close to all of them.”

Hours before the attack, he was aboard the minesweeper USS Condor as it patrolled the harbor’s east entrance when he and others saw the periscope of a Japanese submarine. They notified a destroyer that sunk it shortly before Japanese bombers arrived to strafe the harbor.

By then Chavez, who had worked through the early morning hours, had gone to his nearby home to sleep and [asked] his wife not to wake him because he had been up all night.

“It seemed like I only slept about 10 minutes when she called me and said, ‘We’re being attacked,’ ” he recalled in 2016. “And I said, ‘Who is going to attack us?’ ”

“She said, ‘The Japanese are here, and they’re attacking everything.’ ”

He ran back to the harbor to find it in flames.

Chavez would spend the next week there, working around the clock sifting through the destruction that had crippled the U.S. Navy’s Pacific fleet.

Later he was assigned to the transport ship USS La Salle, ferrying troops, tanks and other equipment to war-torn islands across the Pacific, from Guadalcanal to Okinawa.

Although never wounded, he left the military in 1945 suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder…

Returning to San Diego, where he grew up, he took a job as a landscaper and groundskeeper, attributing the outdoors, a healthy diet and a strict workout program that he continued into his early 100s with restoring his health.

“He loved trees and he dearly loved plants and he knew everything about a plant or tree that you could possibly want to know,” his daughter said Wednesday with a chuckle. “And he finally retired when he was 95.”

Still, he would not talk about Pearl Harbor for decades. Then, on a last-minute whim, he decided to return to Hawaii in 1991 for ceremonies marking the attack’s 50th anniversary.

“Then we did the 55th, the 60th, the 65th and the 70th, and from then on we went to every one,” his daughter recalled, adding that until Chavez’s health began to fail he had planned to attend this year’s gathering.

Born March 12, 1912, in San Bernardino, California, to Mexican immigrant parents, Chavez moved to San Diego as a child, where his family ran a wholesale flower business. He joined the Navy in 1938.

In his later years, as he became well known as the attack’s oldest military survivor, he’d be approached at memorial services and other events and asked for his autograph or to pose for pictures. He always maintained that those events were not about him, however, but about those who gave their lives.

“He’d just shrug his shoulders and shake his head and say, ‘I was just doing my job,’ ” said his daughter. “He was just a very nice, quiet man. He never hollered about anything, and he was always pleasant to everybody.”

Chavez was preceded in death by his wife, Margaret. His daughter is his only survivor.

From an Associated Press report at sunjournal .com. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from the Sun Journal

Read a 2016 Daily News article on Ray Chavez: Oldest Pearl Harbor Survivor, 104, Flies Back to Honolulu


Questions

1. The first paragraph of a news article should answer the questions who, what, where and when. List the who, what, where and when of this news item. (NOTE: The remainder of a news article provides details on the why and/or how.)

2. a) How long did Ray Chavez spend at the port after the attack? - What did he do there?
b) What did Mr. Chavez do for the remainder of the war?

3. Answer the following questions about Pearl Harbor from the information under "Background" below the questions:
a) How many U.S. battleships were at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked?
b) How many of these battleships were sunk?
c) How many other vessels were sunk or damaged?
d) How many U.S. aircraft were destroyed?
e) How many aircraft carriers were destroyed or damaged? Why is this so?
f) How many American military personnel were killed? – How many were wounded?
g) Who was president when Pearl Harbor was attacked? How did he refer to the attack on Pearl Harbor when requesting Congress to declare war the next day?

4. Today’s Daily News Article is a human interest news story. Human interest stories differ from the regular news – they are sometimes referred to as “the story behind the story.“ The major news articles of the day tell of important happenings. Human interest stories tell of how those happenings have impacted the people or places around the story.
Seventy-seven years after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, why is this human interest story newsworthy?

5. What 2 adjectives do you think best describe Ray Chavez? Explain your answer.

6. What inspires you most about Mr. Chavez?

CHALLENGE: Ask a grandparent to describe what he/she learned about Pearl Harbor in elementary school. How does this compare to what you learned?


Background

Facts About Attack by Japan on United States 76 Years Ago:

(by John Haltiwanger, Newsweek.com, Dec. 7, 2107) – [Seventy-seven] years ago, the United States was “suddenly and deliberately” attacked by Japan. President Franklin Roosevelt famously described December 7, 1941, as a date that will “live in infamy.”

The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor to cripple the U.S. Pacific Fleet, but America’s aircraft carriers––perhaps the most vital type of warship––were not stationed there on December 7. Not long after the attack, these ships would go on the offensive against the Japanese.
(Read about U.S. victories involving aircraft carriers:  Battle of the Coral Sea and Lessons from the Battle of Midway).

The surprise assault on Pearl Harbor was a devastating moment for the U.S. that catapulted it into World War II, the deadliest conflict in human history.

“No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory,” Roosevelt said as he addressed Congress on December 8 and asked it to declare war on Japan.

“With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God,” the president said.

Congress gave full support to war against Japan: The Senate voted 82-0 in favor, while the House approved the resolution by a 388-1 vote. The only person to vote against entering the war was Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana, a devout pacifist. Rankin had also voted against the U.S. entering World War I.

Days later, on December 11, 1941, Germany and Italy declared war on America, and the U.S. government promptly returned the gesture. The war, which would last until 1945, turned America into a global power and changed the world irrevocably.

Few survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack are still alive. Five of the remaining survivors from the USS Arizona, the ship hit hardest by the attack, reunited at Arlington National Cemetery in July to pay tribute to those who were killed. The Arizona sank after it was hit by an 1,800-pound bomb, killing 1,177 sailors.

THE ATTACK ON PEARL HARBOR The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on the morning of December 7, 1941.

*About the Battleships:

In a speech Dec. 8, 1941 asking Congress to declare war on Japan after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Rooselvelt said in part:

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan… No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people will through their righteous might win through to absolute victory… With confidence in our armed forces – with the unbounded determination of our people – we will gain the inevitable triumph – so help us God. I, therefore, ask that the Congress declare that since the dastardly and unprovoked attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.”

-Read FDR’s speech to Congress at fdrlibrary.marist.edu, or the National Archives website at archives.gov
-Listen to FDR’s speech to Congress at historymatters.gmu.edu