Ray Chavez, The Nation’s Oldest Survivor Of Pearl Harbor Attack, Dies At 106

The WWII vet said what left the biggest impression during the attack was, 'War. Being in right in the middle of it. It was quite a surprise. I saw everything. Smoke and fire.'

Ray Chavez shown here at 75th anniversary commemoration ceremony of the Pearl Harbor attack.
Craig T. Cojimas / Getty Images

The WWII vet said what left the biggest impression during the attack was, 'War. Being in right in the middle of it. It was quite a surprise. I saw everything. Smoke and fire.'

The slogan “Remember Pearl Harbor” became popular after the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service carried out a surprise military attack against the United States Naval Base at the Hawaiian harbor. Today 106-year-old Ray Chavez is remembered for his service — and for the fact that he was the oldest military survivor of the attack that killed 2,335 military servicemen, 68 civilians, and embroiled the U.S. in a second world war.

Ray Chavez resided in Poway, California, when he passed away. His daughter, Kathleen Chavez, told reporters that her father had died in his sleep after battling pneumonia. His family said in a statement,

Ray was honored to have served his country and to fight among heroes and loved meeting his fellow comrades. He cherished his time going to talk to the kids at schools because he doesn’t want them to forget Pearl Harbor.

Newsweek reports that the National Park Service at Pearl Harbor confirmed Wednesday that the former serviceman was, indeed, the oldest surviving military member of what President Franklin D. Roosevelt termed, “A date which will live in infamy.”

Before the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Ray Chavez was a quartermaster in the U.S. Navy. He was working as a minesweeper on the USS Condor at the time of the attack, and the outfit he was in kept watch over the east entrance of Pearl Harbor.

Chavez was one of the first to notice a Japanese submarine patrolling the area, and a destroyer was notified about it. The destroyer then proceeded to sink the vessel.

In 2016, Daniel Chavez recalled the attack on Pearl Harbor. He said that he had went to sleep after working until nearly morning, and that he had asked his wife Margaret not to wake him. She called him back; however, waking him up after what he said felt like only minutes.

During the conversation, Margaret told him about the attack underway. It was the first time that he was made aware that the Japanese bombers had ambushed everyone and were attacking Pearl Harbor.

He remembered asking his wife, “Who is going to attack us?” To which Margaret answered, “The Japanese are here, and they’re attacking everything.”

Ray Chavez said that he left to find Pearl Harbor ablaze. Chavez spent the following week there, working around the clock, and sifting through the destruction that the Japanese bombers wrought when they took out the Navy’s Pacific fleet.

The WWII veteran told the press that he was proud of the time he served at Pearl Harbor, and that what left the biggest impression was, “War. Being in right in the middle of it. It was quite a surprise. I saw everything. Smoke and fire.”

Ray Chavez became an icon in his later years, and fans often approached him to take photos and to get his autograph at Pearl Harbor memorial services. He remained humble throughout it all, according to his daughter, Kathleen.

Picture of Ray Chavez (C) sits with his daughter Kathleen (L) and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Dorian Bozza (R) during the 75th anniversary memorial for Pearl Harbor.
Ray Chavez (C) sits with his daughter Kathleen (L) during 75th anniversary memorial of Pearl Harbor. Craig T. Cojima / Getty Images

She said he’d just shake his head, and shrug at the commotion. Kathleen went on to say that her dad would tell everyone, “I was just doing my job.”

She elaborated further on his character.

“He was just a very nice, quiet man. He never hollered about anything, and he was always pleasant to everybody.”

In May this year, the 106-year-old traveled to Washington, D.C., where he was honored on Memorial Day by the White House for his service. President Trump’s administration wrote a a Twitter message about the event, per Newsweek, and included a picture of him excitedly posing beside the vet.

You can read the full remarks by President Trump at the Memorial Day Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery at WhiteHouse.gov.

On Wednesday, the White House took to social media again — stating that they were sad to hear that Ray Chavez had passed away.

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