It was a full day for Ray Chavez, the oldest living veteran survivor of the Attack on Pearl Harbor, as he celebrated his 105th birthday with family and friends in San Diego Friday.
Chavez’ birthday festivities kicked off at his gym where he keeps in shape. He’s got two more parties planned for the weekend - the big bash takes places Saturday on deck of USS Midway.
Some might choose to skip a workout on their birthday, but not Chavez. On arrival, he got right into his normal routine and, as he put it, earned himself a piece of cake.
Chavez may not agree, but he earned much more than a piece of birthday cake more than 70 years ago serving missions on minesweeper and attack transport ships, responding to Pearl Harbor the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, and aiding in the Liberation of the Philippines and the Battle of Okinawa.
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On Friday, his first stop was the stationary bike.
Chavez scooched in and began to pedal with his daughter in the bike next to him. He quickly worked up to a proud pace, saving enough air and energy to have a chat with his friend Jack Scalia, an American actor heavily involved in military appreciation campaigns.
After some time on the bike, Chavez moved to the leg extension machine, made multiple passes through a balance-centric obstacle course and marched out a few sets of high-knees.
In between reps he fielded questions about his time on earth from media and enamored party guests. Most simply asked for advice; how he’d made it through 105 years healthy and happy.
“Obey the laws, for one thing,” Chavez said sternly.
He also said making friends was high on his list.
Once he finished his workout, the real party began.
An Elvis impersonator sang “America the Beautiful” and Jeff Senour of Called to Service sang a tune he wrote to honor the nation’s military. The cherry on top was a kiss on the cheek from a woman, and her dog, dressed in a hula skirt.
Finally it was time for cake. Chavez was gracious enough to answer more questions in between bites. When asked what it feels like to be 105 years old, his reply was short and sweet.
“Good,” said Chavez, with a smile.
As for his birthday wish for the coming year, Chavez had this to say: “Whatever good comes along, I wish everybody would share it.”
When asked why he thought so many people were at the gym for this birthday, the humble veteran simply said, “I really don’t know.”
After so much attention on Chavez’ own advice and words of wisdom, he was asked what the best piece of advice he had ever received was.
“To get as much education as you can and also to be kind to all people, especially the elderly and the less fortunate. That’s what I remember most,” he said.
That advice came from his parents.
Chavez recalled being called to active duty as one of the most important memories of his life.
“War. Being in right in the middle of it,” Chavez said. “It was quite a surprise. I saw everything. Smoke and fire.”
As the oldest living veteran of the attack, Chavez flew to Honolulu to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor last December. He was accompanied by his daughter, a U.S. Navy veteran, and escorted by San Diego firefighter Mitch Mendler and retired New York firefighter Joe Torillo, a survivor of the 9/11 attacks.