A funeral procession fit for an American hero traveled through the streets of San Diego Thursday in honor of the late Ray Chavez, who was the oldest veteran survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Chavez died peacefully in his sleep on Nov. 21. He was 106.
A day of tributes to the Navy sailor began with a funeral procession made of Patriot Guard Riders, a nonprofit group that works with the family of lost veterans and service members. The group of motorcycle riders led Chavez’ casket from a funeral home to St. Michael’s Catholic Church.
Along the way, the procession passed a Poway Fire Department house, which had a sprawling American Flag raised above the route in honor of Chavez.
Upon arrival, admiring public stood on the sidelines, at attention, as a military honor guard carried the flag-draped casket into the church, where a private ceremony was held for loved ones.
One Patriot Guard Rider described the importance of being part of Chavez’ funeral ceremony.
“It’s hard to say if one veteran is more special than another. Because of his age, he was the oldest surviving member of the Pearl Harbor attack, so that in itself was pretty special,” the rider, who goes by “Dr. Fix It” said.
The procession’s second leg, from the church to Miramar National Cemetery, where Chavez will be buried, would begin at about 11:30 a.m.
During that time, traffic would be halted as the procession travels on Pomerado Road and Twin Peaks/Camino Del Norte before merging onto Interstate 15. Delays will also occur on state routes 163 and 52, Interstate 805, Nobel Drive and Miramar Road, according to the city of Poway.
Chavez served missions on a minesweeper and attack transport ship and responded to Pearl Harbor on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.
Chavez did not often share stories about the attack on Pearl Harbor but, on one occasion, the sailor recalled being called to active duty as one of the most important memories of his life.
“War. Being in right in the middle of it,” Chavez said. “It was quite a surprise. I saw everything. Smoke and fire.”
Chavez’s daughter, U.S. Navy veteran Kathleen Chavez, said he had not wanted to reflect on his WWII experience until recently because, really, he was a bit shy. Kathleen is grateful, however, that Chavez was able to share his story in recent years.
As the oldest living veteran of the attack, Chavez flew to Honolulu to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor in December 2016. He was accompanied by his daughter and escorted by San Diego firefighter Mitch Mendler and retired New York firefighter Joe Torillo, a survivor of the 9/11 attacks.
Last March, the Poway resident celebrated his 105th birthday with a solid workout at his gym. A couple of days later, a big party was held for him on the flight deck aboard USS Midway Museum.
Stu Hedley, president of the local chapter of Pearl Harbor survivors, said with Chavez’ passing, there are only 10 Pearl Harbor survivors remaining.
Photo Credit: Calvin Pearce/NBC 7
Source: NBC San Diego