In the News
By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
Late Poway resident Ray Chavez, who at the time of his death at 106 was the oldest living Pearl Harbor survivor, will forever be honored in his community.
Local veterans, elected officials and others joined Chavez’s family members on Thursday morning to celebrate the Poway Post Office being dedicated in his honor. The ceremony included the unveiling of a plaque and its installed near the post office’s lobby.
The dedication was made possible through legislation introduced by Rep. Scott Peters in May 2019. Naming the post office in honor of Chavez became official when Public Law 116-230 was signed by former President Donald Trump and enacted on Dec. 21, 2020.
Peters called the late World War II veteran “a great American,” a “revered Poway community member ... and patriot” during his remarks. He also said Chavez was a community leader among veterans.
“(He) left an indelible mark on our community and our country,” Peters said, adding Chavez’s story is similar to that of others in what has been dubbed “the Greatest Generation.”
“Ray represents the best of American values of honor and humility,” Peters said. “He is an exceptional example of contributions by our veterans both in service and after. As a proud military town, San Diego knows the profound sacrifices of all of our service members ...”
Peters added that not only is Chavez honored through the dedication, but “this post office honors all veterans.”
Though born in San Bernardino in 1912, Chavez grew up in San Diego. He joined the Navy in 1938 and was initially stationed in his hometown, assigned to a minesweeper. He was later stationed at Pearl Harbor. On Dec. 7, 1941, while Chavez was aboard the USS Condor, the crew spotted a periscope in restricted waters at 3:30 a.m. It was one of five Japanese mini-subs trying to sneak into the harbor in order to plant bombs on the ships, according to a USPS press release.
When Chavez’s shift ended at 6 a.m. he returned home to get some sleep, but his wife spotted Japanese planes and when he ran outside saw the harbor was under attack. So he immediately returned to his ship, where he remained for the next 10 days according to Peters during his remarks.
Chavez continued his military service, which included eight battle campaigns, before receiving an honorable discharge as a chief quartermaster in 1945. He returned to San Diego where he worked as a groundskeeper at UC San Diego for 30 years. He also owned a landscaping business and did not retire until age 96.
Kathleen Chavez, who is recognized as the Navy’s first woman jet engine mechanic, said dedicating the Poway Post Office after her father is “a great honor and tribute to him.” She added, “he was a very modest man” and said her father is likely looking down from heaven, telling the angels “I was just doing my job and I was not a hero.”
She added that her father would also say “he would do everything to protect America, the greatest country on earth.”
Poway Mayor Steve Vaus said the community wanted to do something to honor Chavez following his death in November 2018. Vaus said he has “deep gratitude to Peters” for making the post office dedication possible.
“We’ve had in Poway a lot of big names in town ... Tony Gwynn, Philip Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson. Big stars,” Vaus said. “But Ray was in a class of his own. He was just remarkable. He was small of stature, but with a big, brave heart. ... He could never understand what all the fuss was about because he was just doing his job.
“I think what I will remember most about Ray (is that he) was humble and kind,” Vaus said. “He could light up a room with his smile. Bottom line is, Ray Chavez was a hero’s hero and worthy of this great honor.”