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At 7:55 AM on December 7th, 1941, Japanese forces bombarded the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor with an onslaught of bombs, bullets and torpedoes. Over 2,400 American lives were lost, with 1,000 more men injured. This year marks the 75th anniversary of their sacrifice to the protection of America’s shores. Sailors like 104-year-old Ray Chavez, the Navy’s oldest veteran, were on duty at Pearl Harbor the day of the attack. Watch the video below to find out what he and his crew experienced on the morning of the strike.
Hours before any attack ever hit the harbor, Quartermaster Third Ray Chavez, was aboard the USS Condor minesweeper, conducting a routine sweep of the area. Around 3:45 AM, Chavez and his crew spotted what would be a Japanese submarine cruising through restricted waters in the harbor. Shaken, they immediately reported it to the USS Ward, and continued their sweep without incident.
At 6:00 AM, Chavez returned to his home near Hickam Airfield and went to sleep. Just before 8 in the morning, he awoke to his wife warning him that they’d been attacked.
He raced to the harbor, black with smoke and aflame from the oil and wreckage. Once aboard the USS Condor, the gravity of the damage set in. The USS Arizona had been sunk, with 1,000 men entombed inside. In the first few minutes of the attack, the USS West Virginia, USS California and the Oklahoma had been lost. In just 2 hours, over 300 American fighter planes had been destroyed, and 20 vessels were damaged.
Luckily, the Japanese failed to completely cripple the Navy fleet. None of the aircraft carriers were stationed in the harbor that day, and many vital base facilities including the oil fields, ship docks, and repair shops were unharmed. This allowed the Pacific Fleet to recover relatively quickly, and go on to win the war against the Axis powers.
Even at 104 years old, Chavez tells his story as if it happened yesterday. The memory of a tragic day forever engrained in his memory. His story is one of the thousands from Sailors who served and sacrificed at Pearl Harbor. And still today, Ray claims it would be an honor to stand and serve in America’s Navy once again.