In March, Raymond “Ray” Barron Chavez turned 106. He wasn’t the world’s oldest person, not by a long shot. Still, 106 is a very long time on the planet. But Ray’s story is far more than that of a centenarian.
Sadly, on Thanksgiving Eve, Nov. 21, 2018, Ray passed away.
Ray, a Mexican-American born of immigrant parents, who worked in California fruit and vegetable fields as a young man, is the oldest living survivor of Pearl Harbor. Ray served on the USS Condor and was one of the very first sailors to spy the enemy submarine.
His story is chilling.
Ray died peacefully surrounded by his family.
What you need to know about Ray Chavez:
1. Born to Mexican Immigrant Parents, Ray Worked the Fields & Then Served His Country Bravely
In the 1920s and ‘30s, a young Raymond Chavez worked in the fields near San Bernadino, California. His Mexican immigrant parents died young; his mother, he said, of exhaustion and his father, perhaps from untreated cancer.
As a young man, Ray married and had a small family. When Ray was 27, he joined the Navy.
2. Ray Chavez Survived Pearl Harbor & is the Oldest Living Survivor at Age 106
Born in 1912, Ray Chavez turned 106 this week. And while that in and of itself is an achievement, it’s even more meaningful and momentous. Ray’s first assignment in the Navy was to the minesweeper USS Condor in Pearl Harbor.
Ray is the last living survivor of the attack on Dec. 7, 1941, that rocketed the U.S. into World War II. But not only did Ray survive Pearl Harbor, but he also fought in at least eight more World War II battles as a sailor after the attack.
3. Ray Was Recorded by the Library of Congress
Ray’s story was such a compelling and him important one, the Library of Congress interviewed him to preserve his as clear-as-if-it-happened-yesterday memories; remembrances etched forever into his memory like sculpted granite.
Ray told local media in Poway, California where he lives with his daughter Kathleen, that even today, he can hear his late wife’s screams 69 years ago, “Get up, get up! We are being attacked!”
4. Ray’s Community Has Not Failed Him
By all accounts, Ray’s a happy man despite the loss of so many in his family including a daughter and grandchild in a car wreck. But Ray has his daughter, Kathleen, who followed her dad and served in the Navy for 20 years as a female jet engine mechanic.
The community in which he lives has been supportive and generous; a concert in his honor and a renovation on his modest home where this hero can live out his days.
Although with Ray, one never knows; it could be another decade. Or more even. Ray is the very definition of a survivor.
5. The Library of Congress Interview Where Ray Described in Detail What Happened at Pearl Harbor
This is his account from 2009, recorded when he was 96.
It’s a long read, but worth it.
“Well, on December the 6th it was just an ordinary, regular, every day, or every night duty. And on December the 7th we proceeded to go, we were assigned to go to them, sweep the channel and area on the west side of the channel because there was another sweeper on the east side. But we were on the west side and we usually started about 12:30 in the morning, on the sweeping operations, and we usually got, we completed on the operations about 6:00 to 6:30 in the morning. And that morning on December the 7th we went out the regular sweeping assignment and until 3:45 in the morning. And I happened to be on the helm, helmsman on the minesweeper. And our Officer of the Deck, whose name was Ensign McCloy, and he was a mid-ship looking forward and had a Quartermaster on watch, and he was on the port side sitting on the Captain’s chair as a lookout.
“And about 3:30, 4-5, 45, 3:45 he called Mr. McCloy, the Officer of the Deck, and said, ‘Mr. McCloy, we have company here.’ And Mr. McCloy answered, What kind of company, what is it? Can you see it?’ And he said, ‘Yes, it’s a submarine and he’s in restricted waters.’ And Mr. McCloy went to the port side and looked at it and sure enough, he verified it that is was a submarine and wasn’t supposed to be there. And he reported it. The Captain was in his bunker getting some rest. And Mr. McCloy sent word that we had an unidentified submarine in restricted waters.”
“And the Captain, I can’t remember the name of the Captain, but he says, he gave the order, ‘Notify the USS Ward right away and also, COM14.’ And the Quartermaster on watch, Uk … his name was Utreck, and he likely informed the USS Ward what was happening and also the COM14. And they didn’t reply, as far as I know, they didn’t reply, and then he came back to the bridge and asked me if I wanted to see it. And so he relieved me on the wheel and I took a look at it, and by that time the submarine almost submerged and all I could see was the periscope, about eight inches or so of the periscope, but I could see the fluorescent in the water that he was going through the ocean to the water. And that’s all I could see. But I could verify there was a submarine.”
“And then after all the reports were in, we proceeded with our minesweeping operations and we finished about 6:00 or 6:30 in the morning. And we went back to our station at the Section Base and we were tied up and it was just a regular day. We never thought anything about it because we left it up to the Ward and to COM14. And then we never thought about it, so we secured. And my family, my wife and my oldest daughter were there with me. But we lived in naval housing, almost across the street from Hickam Field entrance, and very close to the Pearl Harbor entrance. And I’d taken my brother because he was also on my minesweeper and asked him to come over and sleep at home because it was too noisy to sleep onboard ship. But not only ours but all around there.”
“So he did go with me and me, my wife asked me if I wanted breakfast and I said, ‘No.’ I was too tired and I hadn’t slept in all night. And I said, ‘I’m going to bed.’ I went to bed and fell asleep right away. And almost at 8:00 o’clock, I think about five minutes to eight she came in and tried to wake me up. I said she said, ‘Come on, better hurry, get up, we’re being attacked.’ I said, ‘Nobody is attacking us, just leave me alone, and I want to get some sleep.’ She said, ‘No, no, come on, the whole Harbor’s on fire.’ And I said, ‘That can’t be.’ So, she finally convinced me to go out and look at it, and sure enough, the whole Harbor was smoking and on fire.”
“And by that time there was a torpedo plane flying over, a Japanese torpedo plane, kept flying over our house and very low, and he was going with torpedoes, he was going to drop them off and fly right across the channel to the battleships, any battleship, I guess. And then, and let’s see, I told I got Brett right on me, sent my brother back to, he had an old bicycle that he was riding and he got in, got Brett and he left the house right away and he went back to, he was going back to the, to the ship. And in the meantime, the Japanese were strafing all Hickam Field, and he got caught right when one of the planes was going to start firing on fire, and he jumped into a ditch right alongside the road going to the base. And he hid there for until the plane pulled over and nothing happened to him, but he got up after and got, he was through with the firing and he his bicycle went back.”
“In the meantime, I was, I got dressed and I didn’t know how I was going to get back to the ship, because I didn’t have no transportation. But I was going to walk or run or do something. And about that time one of my friends from the ship called me, his name was Young. He was a Machinist’s Mate Young. And he asked me if I wanted a ride back to the ship, I said, ‘Sure.’ And he stopped and picked me up and we went back and we went back to the ship at the Section Base. And by that time we, the other fellows were getting the ship ready to go out to sea again.”
“We were assigned to a different location of sweeping. We were on the, we were ordered to sweep on the west side, the east side of the channel. And the first one was the west and this one was the east. And we started to lay down our gear and by that time we were full of action, it’s 8:30 or so, something like that. And we’re laying out our minesweeping gear because we were going to sweep for acoustic and magnetic mines. And let out some of the gear and here comes a destroyer ship flying out of that harbor. And instead of going straight out in the channel, where they always do, he turned to portside and come on our stern and cut up our cables. So we couldn’t do any more work. And they, we were ordered to proceed to the harbor and tie up.”
Assigned next to the “USS Honolulu, we went sailing in there I saw the destruction on the ships that were torpedoed and bombed and all the bodies that were scattered around in the oil. And sailors trying to get out of the … and being saved by some of the small craft. They’d come right alongside them and pick them up, the ones that were alive. And they said they were going to repair our cables as soon as possible so we could go back to sweeping. But that wasn’t the case.”
“We stayed in there for 10 days. Then finally we got, we got repaired on them, magnetic cables and, and but by that time they had assigned another minesweeper to our area and he finished sweeping that area. So all we had to do we had to do was just go back to the Section Base where we were assigned all the time and tied up there, and that was the end of our sweeping operation because we couldn’t do anything else. And we were there for another 10 days, I think, or, before we, they let us even go ashore or even step on the dock without permission. And the guards were all over for, if you just stepped on the dock well they’d catch you right away and ask for identification and they’d send you back to the ship from where we came from because we weren’t allowed to be on, on the shore because they were expecting more attacks and maybe landing forces. But that wasn’t the case.”