It’s not easy to forget the late Ray Chavez. At 106 years old, he was the oldest survivor of Pearl Harbor. Now, a few years after his death, his legacy lives on as a post office in Poway is dedicated to the veteran.
On Thursday the Poway Post Office at 13308 Midland Rd. will be dedicated to Chavez and a plaque bearing his name will be unveiled there. Chavez’s daughter, U.S. Navy veteran Kathleen Chavez, will be there to witness the special tribute.
The ceremony will include local dignitaries like Poway Mayor Steve Vaus and Congressman Scott Peters (CA-52) who introduced a bill two years ago – backed by bipartisan support in the California House of Representatives – to preserve the legacy of Chavez in this way.
Public Law 116-230 proposed designating the U.S. Postal Service office in Poway – where Chavez lived – as the “Ray Chavez Post Office Building.” It was approved and signed by former President Donald Trump on Dec. 21, 2020.
On Aug. 19, 2021, the idea becomes a reality.
"When I found out he was the oldest [Pearl Harbor] survivor in the country, passed away in November , I thought, what a fine tribute this would be not just to him and his family and his community, but to all the veterans who served," Peters said in 2019.
Chavez's daughter, Kathleen, has said that her father would have been humbled by the honor, just as he was in life when he received attention for his service.
"He’s probably looking down from heaven right now thinking, 'Gosh, I don’t know why they’re making such a big deal. I was just doing my job,'" she told NBC 7.
Who Was Ray Chavez?
Chavez was born in San Bernardino, California, on March 10, 1912. His family soon relocated to San Diego.
Chavez worked as a gardener to help support his family and, as a result, was not able to finish high school. In 1937, he joined the Naval Reserve and in 1939, was called up for active duty.
Stationed in San Diego, Chavez was assigned to a U.S. Navy minesweeper. At the time, there were four of these boats and all were sent to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Chavez’s job was to sweep the harbor for enemy mines.
On Dec. 7, 1941, at 3:45 a.m., Chavez and his crew spotted a periscope in restricted waters off Pearl Harbor. This was one of five Japanese subs trying to get into the harbor – a precursor to what was coming.
Chavez’s shift ended at 6 a.m. that morning. He went home to sleep because he had been up all night. That morning, Chavez’s wide was outside and noticed an airplane flying low over home. Soon, she realized it was a foreign plane; she ran inside the house shouting, “We’re being attacked!”
Chavez ran outside and could see smoke billowing from the harbor. He immediately returned to his ship; he was responding to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
After Pearl Harbor, Chavez was assigned to the transport ship USS La Sala. He took part in eight battle campaigns until the end of WWII in 1945.
After the war, Chavez was Honorably Discharged and returned home to San Diego. The veteran spent time with his family and continued working as a landscaper.
Chavez did not often share stories about the attack on Pearl Harbor but, on one occasion, the sailor 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 in an interview many years ago. "It was quite a surprise. I saw everything. Smoke and fire.
Kathleen Chavez said he had not wanted to reflect on his WWII experience until much later in his life because, really, he was a bit shy.
Kathleen Chavez has said she’s grateful that her father did get to ultimately share his story.
Ray Chavez died peacefully in his sleep in San Diego County on Nov. 21, 2018.
Tributes followed, including a procession that carried his casket to his memorial service at St. Michael's Catholic Church. When Chavez arrived at the church, members of the public stood on the sidelines – at attention – as a military honor guard carried the flag-draped casket into the church, where a private ceremony was held for loved ones.
In November 2018, Stu Hedley, president of the local chapter of Pearl Harbor survivors, said with Chavez’ passing, there were only 10 Pearl Harbor survivors remaining.