A 104-year-old San Diego resident known as the oldest survivor of Pearl Harbor boarded a flight to Honolulu Saturday, where he will be honored at a ceremony.
Ray Chavez, who lives in Poway, will serve as a special guest of the 75th anniversary commemorative ceremonies on Dec. 7. Seaman 1st Class Chavez was assigned to the USS Condor. On Dec. 7, 1941, he was asleep at home after a minesweeping mission during which his crew helped in sinking an enemy submarine. His wife woke him up with word of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Chavez raced to the burning Pearl Harbor and did not leave for a week. Today, he is the oldest known living U.S. military veteran of the bombing raid that killed thousands and pulled America into WWII.
“I never will forget [Pearl Harbor] as long as I live,” Chavez said before boarding his flight at the San Diego International Airport Saturday.
Alaska Airlines flew Chavez and his daughter, Kathleen – a retired U.S. Navy veteran – first class.
“He’s the oldest, and there’s not too many of them left anymore,” his daughter said.
San Diego firefighter Mitch Mendler and retired New York firefighter Joe Torillo, who survived the 9/11 attacks, accompanied Chavez on the flight as honorary escorts.
A special TSA line awaited Chavez at the airport, giving him his screening. And, as he made his way to his gate, stranger after stranger stopped him to take photos with him, shake his hand and thank him for his service.
Chavez said he’s humbled by the attention.
“Well, I’m not exactly a hero, because there were thousands of other heroes, too. But I’m very proud of the honor bestowed on me,” he added.