Raymond Chavez at the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor aboard the USS Midway Museum. Photo credit: 3rd Class Gregory A. Harden II
This Monday, December 7th, marked the 74th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day, FDR’s ‘date that will live in infamy’. Most students of history know that Japan launched a sneak attack on the U.S. naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, as a pre-emptive strike against expected U.S. opposition to Japan’s planned expansion in Southeast Asia. Early on the 7th, a Sunday morning, Japan sent more than 350 fighter planes, bombers, and torpedo planes against Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu in a two wave attack which succeeded in damaging all eight of the U.S. Navy battleships docked in Battleship Row, sinking four. Ultimately, seven were raised, and six were returned to service, but the U.S.S. Arizona and eight other ships were damaged or permanently sunk. The Japanese took very light casualties, because they also destroyed 188 of the U.S. aircraft parked at the base. In total, 2,403 American sailors, pilots, Marines, and civilians were killed and 1,178 others were wounded, causing national outrage, grief and fierce clamor for retaliation. The day after Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt declared war on Japan, and after exchanging declarations of war with Germany and Italy later that week, the United States was fully involved in World War II.
San Diego is home to the oldest living Pearl Harbor survivor, Ray Chavez, 103, of Poway. Born in San Bernardino, Ray was serving on the minesweeper USS Condor as a Seaman First Class at 4am the morning of December 7th, sweeping the harbor for mines when his crew spotted the periscope of a Japanese sub. After the sub blew up, Ray was off duty and home asleep when the harbor exploded with bombs and his wife woke him with the news that Pearl Harbor was under attack. After leaving the Navy in 1945, Ray served as a groundskeeper at UCSD for 30 years, and after retirement started a landscaping business that he ran until he was 96. After a fall in 2012 which impaired his walking and caused a lot of pain, Ray took up weightlifting at a gym in Rancho Bernardo, working with a trainer whose work with a 100-year-old widow made the news in 2013. Ray now works out twice a week, has buffed up with 20 pounds of muscle, and dropped his body fat down to 7%! Needless to say, he’s a star at his gym, and as the oldest living Pearl Harbor survivor, has attended memorial events honoring him and his service throughout the year.
The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, founded in 1958, used to host meetings every five years in Hawaii, to commemorate the event, and remember those lost. But the national group disbanded in 2011, on the 70th anniversary, in the face of the small number of survivors left, the restrictions of failing health, and the difficulty such a long trip would present to the remaining members. However, the torch of remembrance has passed to the group Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, formed by the children of the survivors, and by those who were children at the time of the attack. San Diegan Joanne “Joedy” Adams is head of membership of the San Diego Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, whose current roster lists just 22 members this year. But she is also a member of the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbors Survivors, and she spends her free time telling the story of Pearl Harbor to local 5th and 6th graders. On December 7th, 1941, she was 12 years old, at home on the Kaneohe Bay Naval Base, and getting ready to go to church, when she heard the noise of planes overhead and bombs in the harbor. She and her mother fled the base, and sheltered with the other base families and civilians far from the harbor, while her father went to the harbor to fight back.
Both Joedy and Ray are pieces of living history that San Diego is lucky to have. Several communities and organization around the city hosted ceremonies on Monday the 7th honoring those who served, and remembering those lost, on December 7th, 1941. This is a timely reminder that history lives all around us, especially here in San Diego, and that remembering history is the best way to respect the sacrifice of those came before.