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CA post office may be named for Ray Chavez, who was oldest Pearl Harbor veteran

Ray Chavez, a 104-year-old Navy veteran and the oldest surviving Pearl Harbor veteran (US Navy/Released)

The name of Poway resident Ray Chavez, who until his death at age 106 last fall was the nation’s oldest surviving veteran of the attack on Pearl Harbor, may soon adorn one of his hometown’s oldest buildings.

U.S. Rep Scott Peters will hold a press conference at 10 a.m. Wednesday in front of the Poway post office at 13308 Midland Road to announce his introduction of H.R. 3005, a bill that would rename the location the “Ray Chavez Post Office Building.” Introduced on May 23, the bill was endorsed by every member of California’s House delegation, including seven Republicans, showing its strong bipartisan support.

Peters said that over the years he had followed stories in The San Diego Union-Tribune about Chavez, a World War II Navy veteran who moved with his family to Poway in 1959. He felt Chavez’s life was well worth honoring.

“Here’s a Poway resident who performed exemplary military service, was the son of immigrants and seemed like such a San Diego story,” Peters said. “There are other exemplars of San Diego, but Ray Chavez is certainly one.”

Kathleen Chavez, a fellow Navy veteran who was her father Ray’s live-in caregiver for more than 20 years, said she is thrilled about the possible renaming of a building that has been her family’s neighborhood post office since she was a little girl.

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“Oh man it’s going to be so cool,” she said. “I think he’s probably looking down from heaven right now and saying, ‘I don’t know what they’re making such a big deal about.’ He was always so humble about his service in World War II and would probably say, ‘I was just doing my job like everyone else.’ But also I think he’d be very pleased and I think he deserves it.”

Chavez surged into national prominence four years ago when fellow Pearl Harbor veterans recognized him as the oldest survivor of the Japanese attack on Hawaii that ushered the U.S. into World War II in 1941. Chavez traveled each December to Hawaii for annual memorials, and on Memorial Day last year he was invited to the White House by President Trump.

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. After an all-night mine- and submarine-sweeping mission, he was asleep at his home in nearby Ewa Beach when the attack began on Dec. 7, 1941.

“My wife ran in and said, ‘We’re being attacked’ and I said, ‘Who’s going to attack us? Nobody.’ She said that the whole harbor was on fire and when I got outside I saw that everything was black from all the burning oil,” he told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Over the next four years, he rose to the rank of chief in the Navy. After the war, he returned to San Diego where he worked in the nursery industry. He spent 30 years as a groundskeeper at UC San Diego, then ran his own groundskeeping business in the Poway area until his retirement at age 96. A widower, he passed away peacefully in his sleep on Nov. 21, 2018.

Poway Mayor Steve Vaus described Chavez as a beloved hometown figure.

“Poway knew Ray not only as the oldest Pearl Harbor survivor but one of the last of the greatest generation,” Vaus said last fall. “And though he was a humble hero, he was still idolized and fawned over more than anybody else ever in Poway.”

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Peters, a Democrat who has represented the 52nd Congressional District since 2013, said that with the state delegation’s support, H.R. 3005 will likely be approved by the House committee and hopefully voted on by the full House later this year.

The press conference on Wednesday will be attended by Peters, Kathleen Chavez, U.S. Rep. Mike Levin, Mayor Vaus, Holly Shaffner of the Honor Flight Newtork, Mark Balmert of the San Diego Military Advisory Council, Poway Postmaster Connie Sallee and Poway city councilmembers Barry Leonard, Caylin Frank and John Mullin.

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© 2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune