Oldest survivor of Pearl Harbor attack visits Tripler

| December 14, 2017 | 0 Comments

Ray Chavez, the oldest Pearl Harbor survivor greets William Davis, “the American Santa” on Dec. 8, 2017 at the Tripler Army Medical Center dining facility with Joel Jenkins, Tripler Protocol Officer. (Photo by Leanne Thomas, Tripler Army Medical Center Public Affairs)

Story and photo by
Leanne Thomas
Tripler Army Medical Center
Public Affairs

HONOLULU — The oldest survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. Navy veteran Ray Chavez of California, visited Tripler Army Medical Center, Dec. 8, as part of his trip to attend to the 76th Pearl Harbor commemoration ceremonies.

He was accompanied by his daughter Kathleen Chavez; Richard Rovsek, chairman of the Spirit of Liberty Foundation; and William Davis, the “American Santa.”

Upon entering the medical center, Rovsek announced Chavez’s arrival to a large gathering at Tripler’s dining facility during the annual holiday meal.

“This is Ray Chavez; he’s 105 years old and the oldest Pearl Harbor survivor,” Rovsek told those gathered.

Troops applauded Chavez and lined up to shake his hand, thank him for his service and snap a few “selfies” with him.
According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, on the day of the attack, Chavez was on the minesweeper Condor, which spotted the periscope of a Japanese midget submarine as it tried to enter Pearl Harbor.

“He never would talk about it, and the only reason why I knew he was there (at Pearl Harbor) was that my mother was there with him,” Kathleen Chavez said. “She told me about being here. Otherwise, he never said a word.”
Kathleen and her father began attending the Pearl Harbor remembrance ceremonies in 1991, when she thought to ask if he would be interested in going.

“When my mother passed away and the 50th anniversary came along, I thought, ‘I wonder …’ So I said to him, ‘Would you like to go?’” Kathleen said.

“The first time we went to the ceremony, it was very emotional, and he doesn’t show his emotions. … I know it really touched him,” she said.

Since then, Kathleen and her father have attended Pearl Harbor commemorations about every five years until the 70th anniversary, when they decided they would come every year.

Operation Christmas Miracle, a program leveraged by the Spirit of Liberty, financed Chavez’s trip this year, and also coordinated the visit to Tripler.

“We (the foundation) have visited military hospitals from coast to coast from Walter Reed … as far as to Germany in Landstuhl to the hospitals. We always feel it is something we should do when we have Santa Claus, we should stop by and visit,” said Rovsek.

Every year in Hawaii, the Spirit of Liberty Foundation opens the Pearl Harbor commemoration ceremonies on Dec. 6.

“We are the first event and have been for several years, and we call it, ‘The Ringing of America’s Freedom Bell,’” explained Rovsek.

Chavez is often the honoree to be the first to ring the bell, and over the years, he has been honored at many Pearl Harbor commemoration ceremonies. But at 105 years old, that is not the reason why he makes a special trip out to Hawaii each year.

Kathleen said, “He goes to honor those he served with.”

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