Ray Chavez celebrated his 105th birthday on March 10 and it did not go noticed by the President of the United States. The oldest living U.S. veteran of the Pearl Harbor attack received a birthday letter on Thursday.
“I also join your many admirers in thanking you for your service to the United States of America,” said President Trump. “As the oldest living survivor of Pearl Harbor, your remarkable story is treasured by our nation, and the sacrifices you made in service to our country should fill you with tremendous pride.”
Mr. Chavez served aboard the USS Condor, the first ship to spot a periscope on a Japanese midget submarine while trying to find its way into the harbor. The Japanese submarine was destroyed by a nearby destroyer.
The San Diego Tribune reported:
Chavez had just gone to bed after a night aboard the Condor. A San Diego fishing boat that had been converted into a minesweeper and stationed in Hawaii, the Condor was cruising near Pearl Harbor when a lookout spotted a submarine.
“We’ve got company!” the lookout yelled.
At the helm, Chavez couldn’t see the intruder. When a friend relieved him, he walked to the Condor’s port side and scanned the dark sea.
“All I saw was a periscope,” he said.
About 3:50 a.m. on Dec. 7, the Condor reported the sighting. The destroyer Ward searched the area and, around 6:37 a.m., sighted and attacked the sub.
Preceding the Zeros assault on Pearl Harbor by more than an hour, this was the first American action in World War II.
The Condor, though, had already returned to port. Unaware of his role in history, Chavez went home and climbed into bed. When he heard his wife’s screaming about an attack, he didn’t believe her.
“Who’s going to attack us?” he wondered.
But he went to the window — and was staggered by a vision of flames, oily smoke, sinking ships.
“The whole harbor was on fire,” he said. “It was terrible, really terrible.”
He hurried back to the Condor. The minesweeper was exiting the harbor when a destroyer swept past and destroyed Condor’s sweeping equipment.
Soon after the attack, Chavez was ordered back to California. A quartermaster, he joined the crew of the troop transport La Salle. He spent the rest of the war helping to ferry troops to embattled islands, from Guadalcanal to Okinawa.
“I’m glad I did my part and went through all those military exercises, being in the war and everything,” he said. “I was a small part of that.”
The President concluded his birthday wishes by saying, “Melania and I want to join your friends and loved ones in honoring and thanking you for your service to our great nation. Our best wishes for health and happiness in the coming year.”
— Sean Spicer (@PressSec) March 16, 2017
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