Ray Chavez still clearly recalls the “date which will live in infamy.”
He remembers the mysterious submarine that crept along the ocean’s surface in the predawn darkness before it was sunk by the USS Ward. He remembers the Japanese bombers and fighter planes that stormed the base just before 8 a.m. He remembers the men who desperately plunged into the harbor, fighting through thick oil and grease leaking from sunken U.S. ships.
“The lifeboats,” he says, “they were saving as many men as they could.”
At 104, Chavez is the oldest known survivor of Pearl Harbor, but his memories are no less vivid of the surprise attack that happened on this date 75 years ago, when he and his fellow crew members were stationed aboard a coastal minesweeper called the USS Condor.
As part of an ongoing project, we recently sat down with Chavez and fellow Pearl Harbor survivor Adam Romero, 96, who kindly agreed to commit their stories to film. And we were so moved by their words that we decided to edit together excerpts of their interviews to commemorate the somber anniversary of an assault that claimed more than 2,400 American lives and launched the United States into World War II.
We hope you’ll take a moment to watch the video above, but first a little more about how this came about.
Over the last two decades, the organization Latino Advocates for Education has been doing research on Mexican-American veterans from throughout Southern California, compiling over 2,000 profiles on those who served in combat roles from World War II through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. More recently, OCDE’s Media Services team has been assisting the effort, filming occasional interviews with veterans alongside Orange County Superior Court Judge Frederick Aguirre, who serves as president of Latino Advocates for Education.
These stories are now preserved for future generations, and many have been posted on the American Patriots of Latino Heritage website, a historical resource for students and teachers who want to learn more about the contributions of Latino patriots.
Patriots like Chavez and Romero, two surviving members of a heroes’ guild that becomes smaller with each passing year.
“It’s important for us as Americans to remember the contributions, the sacrifice, that these men made on that day,” Aguirre said, “and to thank them for their service.”