Chief Chavez was born in San Bernardino in 1911 and grew up in San Diego’s Old Town and Logan Heights communities, where his large family ran a wholesale flower business. In 1938, at the age of 27, he joined the Navy and was assigned to the minesweeper USS Condor at Pearl Harbor. At 0345, 7 December 1941, then Seaman 1st Class Chavez’s crew was sweeping the east entrance to the harbor when they spotted the periscope of a Japanese midget submarine. After depth charges were dropped to sink the sub in 1,500 feet of water, the rest of the morning passed uneventfully.

Seaman Chavez was asleep at home in nearby Ewa Beach when the Japanese bombing raid began. His wife ran in and said, ‘We’re being attacked’ and he said, ‘Who’s going to attack us? Nobody.’ She said that the whole harbor was on fire and when he got outside he saw that everything was black from all the burning oil. Chavez spent the next nine days on continuous duty in and around Pearl Harbor and said the scenes he witnessed left deep emotional scars. Over the next four years, he rose to the rank of Chief, serving on transport ships that delivered tanks and Marines to shore in eight Pacific battles.

Although he wasn’t injured during the war, he retired from the Navy in 1945 with psychological wounds now known as PTSD from the carnage he witnessed. He said that after a couple of the battles he saw, he started to shake. First it was his hands, then it was his arms. By the time the war was over, his whole body shook. During his exit physical from the Navy, a doctor wanted Chief Chavez to spend some time recovering in a mental health clinic, but he feared it would impact future job opportunities. Chief Chavez declined the offer and moved back to San Diego, where he got a job at a nursery. After two years working outdoors in the fresh air, he got better.

In the 1950s, he and his wife, Margaret, suffered an unimaginable blow when their daughter, son-in-law and 18-month-old granddaughter were killed in a car accident. To mend their broken hearts, they adopted 5-year-old Kathleen from a San Diego orphanage in 1957. She, too, served in the Navy, from 1974 to 1991 and was recognized as the Navy’s first woman jet engine mechanic. She had lived with her father since her mother’s death in the mid-1980s.

Chief Chavez passed away peacefully in his sleep between 0300 and 0600, three years ago today on Wednesday, 21 November 2018, at the time of his death Chief Chavez was considered the oldest Pearl Harbor survivor at 106 years old.