LOS ANGELES (AP) – Ray Chavez, the oldest US military survivor on December 7, 1941, attacked Pearl Harbor, plunging the United States into World War II, died on Wednesday. He was 106 years old.
Chavez, who fought pneumonia, died in a dream in a suburb of San Diego in Powea, his daughter Kathleen Chavez told the Associated Press.
Most recently, last May, he went to Washington, DC, where he was honored on President Donald Trump Memorial Day. The White House tweeted a statement Wednesday saying that he was saddened to hear about his passing.
“We were honored to accept him at the White House at the beginning of this year,” the statement said. “Thank you for your service to our great people, Ray!”
Daniel Martinez, chief historian of the National Park Service in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, confirmed Wednesday that Chavez was the oldest survivor of the attack, which killed 2,335 US troops and 68 civilians.
“I still feel a loss,” Chavez said during 2016, marking the 75th anniversary of the attack. "We were all together, we were friends and brothers, I feel close to everyone."
Read more: The Navy took incredible photos to show modern Pearl Harbor compared to the day of the attack
A few hours before the attack, he was aboard the minesweeper USS Condor when he patrolled the eastern entrance of the harbor, when he and others saw the periscope of a Japanese submarine. They notified the destroyer, who sank him shortly before the Japanese bombers arrived at the harbor.
By that time, Chavez, who worked in the early morning hours, went to his next house to sleep, ordering his wife not to wake him up, because he had been up all night.
“It seemed to me that I was sleeping only 10 minutes when she called me and said:“ They attack us, ”he recalled in 2016.“ And I said: “Who will attack us?”
"She said:" The Japanese are here, and they are attacking everything. "
He ran back to the harbor to find him on fire.
Chavez will spend the next week there, working around the clock, sifting destruction that caused damage to the US Pacific Fleet.
Later he was assigned to the USS La Salle transport ship, transporting troops, tanks and other equipment to war-torn islands across the Pacific Ocean, from Guadalcanal to Okinawa.
Although he was never injured, he left the military in 1945, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which left him anxious and trembling.
Back in San Diego, where he grew up, he took a job as a landscape designer and farmer, explaining nature, a healthy diet, and a rigorous training program that he continued in his early 100s, restoring his health.
“He loved trees, and he loved plants very much, and he knew everything about the plant or tree you might want to know about,” his daughter said with a grin. "And he finally retired when he was 95 years old."
However, he will not talk about Pearl Harbor for decades. Then, at the last minute, he decided to return to Hawaii in 1991 for ceremonies for the 50th anniversary of the attack.
“Then we made the 55th, 60th, 65th and 70th, and from that moment we went to everyone,” she recalled, adding that until Chavez’s health fails, he planned to attend this year next year.
Born March 12, 1912 in San Bernardino, California, to immigrant parents from Mexico, Chavez moved to San Diego as a child, where his family ran a wholesale business. He joined the Navy in 1938.
In his later years, when he became known as the oldest military survivor of the attack, memorial services and other events would come to him, ask for his autograph or pose for photos. He always claimed that these events were not about him, but about those who gave their lives.
“He just shrugged, shook his head and said,“ I was just doing my job, ”his daughter said. "He was just a very nice, calm person, he never shouted about anything, and he was always pleasant for everyone."
Chavez was preceded by the death of his wife Margaret. His daughter is the only survivor.
Funeral services are pending.
Associated Press Writer Audrey McEvoy in Honolulu contributed to his story.