Pearl Harbor 75th Anniversary: Oldest Survivor Ray Chavez Attends Commemorative Event

Pearl Harbor survivors and their families watched the premiere of the Remember Pearl Harbor documentary film together at the Pacific Aviation Museum on December 4. The survivors, who included several Medal of Honor recipients, were honored during the event organized to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the gruesome World War II attack in Hawaii.

Remember Pearl Harbor was created by the World War II Foundation. The documentary focuses on the personal stories shared by survivors and witnesses of the horrific December 7, 1941, attack, the Navy News Service notes. Four USS Arizona survivors attended the Pearl Harbor 75th anniversary event. Ray Chavez, 104, the oldest attack survivor, served on the USS Condor.

Pearl Harbor 75th anniversary event attendees also included Hershel Wood Williams and Gary Littrell. The Medal of Honor recipients both served on the USS Arizona. James Downing, 103, was a post master on the USS West Virginia.

World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument Chief Historian Daniel Martinez spoke at the beginning of the Remember Pearl Harbor documentary film.

“Pearl Harbor is the touchstone of history,” Daniel Martinez said in the film. “It’s where World War II began for the United States.”

The Remember Pearl Harbor film event was also open to the public. A host of current members of the military and combat veterans were also in attendance at the weekend viewing. Petty Officer 2nd Class Kevin G. Smith, of Frederick, Maryland, was among the currently serving military members at the Pearl Harbor 75th-anniversary remembrance documentary screening. Smith said he had been planning for the trip for the past five years.

“I have a passion for veterans because I come from a military family of veterans,” Smith said. “My grandfather was in the Navy during World War II, my uncle was in the Navy during the Korean War, my cousin is a retired chief and I had five uncles in the Army, one of which served in Vietnam.”

Smith proudly showed a document from the 2010 National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day event that he had signed by seven survivors of the attack. While visiting Hawaii, Smith met with USS Arizona survivor Donald Stratton. He referred to the time spent with the Word War II survivor as an honor.

“We need to keep this history alive so the next generations can understand the importance of honoring those who served and remembering the events so that the same mistakes aren’t made in the future,” Smith continued.

In the documentary, the Pearl Harbor survivors said they would like all Americans to remember who they were, what they witnessed, and all those who lost their lives, were injured, or went missing on December 7, 1941.

Dozens of Pearl Harbor attack survivors were transported to Hawaii so they could commemorate the 75th anniversary of the attack courtesy of honor flights on American Airlines. Approximately 80 World War II veterans were greeted by hundreds by grateful and cheering supporters when they landed, KHON2 News reports.

“To be on the airplane with these guys, we had a gentleman who is 100 years old, but the smiles on the faces and the stories these guys tell and the sense of humor. It’s great to be a fly on the wall around these guys, it doesn’t get boring,” said American Airlines honor flight Captain Jim Palmersheim. “Every single one of them, they don’t think they’re heroes. They were just doing their job and it’s so humbling.”

Pearl Harbor survivor Howard Bender said it was difficult to “comprehend” he was back at the attack site after so many decades. Bender said he was only 19 when the base in Hawaii was attacked by Japan. He still vividly recalled seeing crew members of the USS Oklahoma being rescued from the water.

“It was an experience that, if I had to do it again, I would do it, even at my age,” Bender said.

The Pearl Harbor survivor said he hopes future generations of Americans never fail to underestimate the threats our country faces.

“Remember Pearl Harbor and keep America alert,” he added.

Actor Gary Sinise, a devoted advocate for veterans, flew along with the Pearl Harbor survivors on the honor flight.

“These are our freedom providers and we can’t take that for granted,” Sinise said. “What they did here and all those many years ago, we continue to benefit from that. If they would’ve not been able to win that war, we’d all be living in a very different world.”

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