Ray Chavez, the oldest US military survivor of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, died Wednesday. He was 106. Chavez, who'd been battling pneumonia, died in his sleep in the San Diego suburb of Poway, his daughter tells the AP. The chief historian for the National Park Service at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, confirmed Wednesday Chavez was the oldest survivor of the attack that killed 2,335 US military personnel and 68 civilians. Born March 12, 1912, in San Bernardino, Calif., to Mexican immigrant parents, Chavez moved to San Diego as a child. He joined the Navy in 1938. Hours before the Pearl Harbor attack, he was aboard the USS Condor as it patrolled the harbor's east entrance when he and others saw a Japanese sub's periscope. They notified a destroyer that sunk it shortly before Japanese bombers arrived to strafe the harbor.
Chavez, who'd worked through the early morning, had gone to his nearby home to sleep, ordering his wife not to wake him as he'd 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. He ran back to the harbor to find it in flames. Chavez spent the next week there, sifting through the destruction that crippled the US Navy's Pacific fleet. Although never wounded, he left the military in 1945 suffering from PTSD that left him anxious and shaking. Returning to San Diego, he took a job as a landscaper and groundskeeper, attributing the outdoors, a healthy diet, and a strict workout program that he continued into his early 100s with restoring his health. Chavez was preceded in death by his wife, Margaret. His daughter is his only survivor. "I still feel a loss," Chavez said during 2016 ceremonies for the attack's 75th anniversary. "We were all together. We were friends and brothers. I feel close to all of them." (Read more about Chavez here.)