At a time when the goodness of the United States is being questioned — even slighted — by many, it’s more important than ever to recognize and salute those who have served and sacrificed for the freedom we enjoy in this country.
Ray Chavez, a hero and patriot, fits squarely in this category — and Americans nationwide are mourning his death.
The oldest U.S. military survivor of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor died this past Wednesday.
He was 106 years old.
Chavez, a Navy veteran, had been battling pneumonia and passed away in his sleep in San Diego, California, as his daughter, Kathleen Chavez, his longtime caregiver, told the Associated Press.
— The Hill (@thehill) November 23, 2018
Born in 1912, Chavez was a part of what is now being termed the G.I. Generation — the demographic cohort that grew up in the United States amid the deprivations of the Great Depression.
As recently as last May, Chavez had traveled to Washington, D.C., where he was honored on Memorial Day by President Donald Trump, according to reporting from NBC News.
In the wake of his passing, the White House tweeted, in part, “We were honored to host him at the White House earlier this year. Thank you for your service to our great nation, Ray!”
We are saddened to hear the oldest living Pearl Harbor veteran, Ray Chavez, has passed away at the age of 106. We were honored to host him at the White House earlier this year. Thank you for your service to our great Nation, Ray! pic.twitter.com/CA7Xdcxz89
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) November 22, 2018
Daniel Martinez, chief historian for the National Park Service at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, confirmed on Wednesday that Chavez was the oldest survivor of the attack that killed 2,335 U.S. military personnel and 68 civilians, according to Newsweek.
Chavez zoomed to prominence in 2015 when Pearl Harbor veterans recognized him as the oldest survivor of the 1941 Japanese attack that ushered the U.S. into World War II, according to reporting from the San Francisco Chronicle.
Hours before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Chavez was aboard the minesweeper USS Condor as it patrolled the harbor’s east entrance.
He and others saw the periscope of a Japanese submarine.
They notified a destroyer that sunk it shortly before Japanese bombers arrived to strafe the harbor, AP reported.
Chavez, the son of Mexican immigrants, was born in San Bernardino in 1911.
He grew up in San Diego’s Old Town and Logan Heights communities, where his large family ran a wholesale flower business.
Spending time with Pearl Harbor veteran Ray Chavez was humbling and enlightening.
Condolences to his daughter, Kathleen, family and friends, on his passing. 🇺🇸 https://t.co/6ftl5zNPwP
— Kellyanne Conway (@KellyannePolls) November 23, 2018
In 1938, at the age of 27 and already a husband and father, Chavez joined the Navy and was assigned to the minesweeper USS Condor at Pearl Harbor.
“Ray was the epitome of the greatest generation,” said Richard Rovsek, a trustee of the nonprofit Spirit of Liberty Foundation in Rancho Santa Fe, as the San Diego Union-Tribune reported and as Fox News noted.
“He was always proud to be an American and proud of the military.”
Chavez “loved nonfiction books and was into travel,” Fox News noted.
He spent 30 years as a groundskeeper at the University of California, San Diego, then ran his own landscaping and groundskeeping business in the Poway area until retiring at the age of 96, the outlet also reported.
Memorial services are pending.
Chavez had asked to be buried at Miramar National Cemetery in San Diego, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Check out this video:
Elizabeth Economou is a former CNBC staff writer and adjunct professor. Follow her on Twitter.