December 7, 1941, was like any other day for Seaman Raymond Chavez. He was at the helm of the minesweeper USS Condor (AMC 14), conducting routine sweeps off the coast of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Around four in the morning, one of his shipmates spotted something in the water. Taking a closer look, they realized it was a periscope of an enemy submarine.
Following protocol, the crew notified the Pearl Harbor Command Post, and was told to return to base. After being told not to worry about the incident, exhausted, Chavez headed home to get some sleep.
He never imagined the chaos he would wake up to.
In October 2016, the oldest Pearl Harbor survivor, at the age of 104, recalled being half-asleep when his wife frantically alerted him that they were under attack from the Japanese. As he stepped out of his home to see what was going on, black smoke had consumed the harbor.
“You could see the black smoke from one end to the other,” Chavez said. “The ships were on fire, and burning their oil.”
He threw on clothes and raced back, on foot, but was, luckily, spotted by a shipmate driving to the base, and was given a ride. As soon as he got there, the ship prepared to get underway.
For the next 10 days, Chavez stayed on the ship, not knowing if his loved ones had survived the attack. When arrived back on shore, he noticed the water was littered with oil and dead bodies.
“I started crying,” said Chavez. “I’m not ashamed to admit it…all the Sailors who were trying to save themselves, and all the dead bodies, and the oil.
“The ships were on fire, and they were jumping off the ships,” recalls Chavez.
Chavez served throughout World War II, and even rose to the rank of chief petty officer. In 1945, he was medically retired for combat fatigue. To this day, he is truly proud of the service he gave to his county.
“To this day, I told them, I’d do it again if you want me,” said Chavez. “It made me very proud that I had joined, and I still am.”
Chavez, who resides in Poway, California, celebrated his 105th birthday in March 2017.
For more information, visit the Naval History and Heritage Command website.
A small boat rescues a seaman from the 31,800 ton USS West Virginia (BB-48), which is burning in the foreground. Smoke rolling out amidships shows where the most extensive damage occurred. Note the two men in the superstructure. The USS Tennessee (BB-43) is inboard.” | Photo: Library of Congress.
This article originally appeared on the U.S. Navy Office of Information’s AllHands page.