Oldest US military survivor of Pearl Harbour dies at 106

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The oldest US military survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbour that plunged the US into the Second World War has died at the age of 106.

Ray Chavez, who had been battling pneumonia, died in his sleep in the San Diego suburb of Poway, his daughter Kathleen Chavez said.

Daniel Martinez, chief historian for the National Park Service at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, confirmed Mr Chavez was the oldest survivor of the attack that killed 2,335 US military personnel and 68 civilians on December 7 1941.

Last May he travelled to Washington DC where he was honoured on Memorial Day by President Donald Trump. The White House Tweeted a statement on Wednesday saying it was saddened to hear of his death.

“We were honoured to host him at the White House earlier this year,” the statement said. “Thank you for your service to our great nation, Ray!”

“I still feel a loss,” Mr Chavez said during 2016 ceremonies marking the attack’s 75th anniversary. “We were all together. We were friends and brothers. I feel close to all of them.”

Hours before the attack, he was aboard the minesweeper USS Condor as it patrolled the harbour’s east entrance when he and others saw the periscope of a Japanese submarine. They notified a destroyer that sunk it shortly before Japanese bombers arrived to strafe the harbour.

By then Mr Chavez, who had worked through the early morning hours, had gone to his nearby home to sleep, ordering his wife not to wake him because he had been up all night.

“It seemed like I only slept about 10 minutes when she called me and said, ‘We’re being attacked’,” he recalled in 2016. “And I said, ‘Who is going to attack us?’”

“She said, ‘The Japanese are here, and they’re attacking everything’.”

He ran back to the harbour to find it in flames.

He spent the next week there, working around the clock sifting through the destruction that had crippled the US Navy’s Pacific fleet.

Later he was assigned to the transport ship USS La Salle, ferrying troops, tanks and other equipment to war-torn islands across the Pacific, from Guadalcanal to Okinawa.

Kathleen Chavez with her father Ray
Kathleen Chavez with her father Ray (Eugene Tanner/AP)

Returning to San Diego, where he had grown up, he took a job as a landscaper and groundskeeper, attributing the outdoors, a healthy diet and a strict workout programme that he continued into his early 100s with restoring his health.

“He loved trees and he dearly loved plants and he knew everything about a plant or tree that you could possibly want to know,” his daughter said with a chuckle. “And he finally retired when he was 95.”

He would not talk about Pearl Harbour for decades. Then, on a last-minute whim, he decided to return to Hawaii in 1991 for ceremonies marking the attack’s 50th anniversary.

“Then we did the 55th, the 60th, the 65th and the 70th, and from then on we went to every one,” his daughter recalled, adding that until Mr Chavez’s health began to fail he had planned to attend this year’s gathering next month.

Born on March 12 1912 in San Bernardino, California, to Mexican immigrant parents, Mr Chavez moved to San Diego as a child, where his family ran a wholesale flower business. He joined the Navy in 1938.

Mr Chavez was preceded in death by his wife Margaret. His daughter is his only survivor. Funeral services are pending.

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