He is 104 years old, but Ray Chavez, the country’s oldest living Pearl Harbor veteran, still finds a reason to believe, and to get out of bed each morning.
He wasn’t always so positive in his thinking or his actions, says his daughter, Kathleen, who is his fulltime caregiver.
A couple of years ago, he fell and broke his arm while out walking. That “seemed to take the wind out of his sails,” she told InsideEdtion.com. He didn’t want to walk anymore. He didn’t seem to want to do much of anything anymore.
“I just watched him deteriorate and deteriorate. There times when I didn’t think he was going to make it through the night. One night I had to take him to the hospital,” she recounted.
Then she read an article in her local San Diego paper about a trainer who was working with a 101-year-old woman. “So I called the guy up and said ‘How would you feel about working with a 102-year-old man?’ And he said, ‘Well, bring him on down.’’’
So Kathleen did, with a little help from Chavez’s doctor, who encouraged the veteran to get out and get some exercise.
At first, Chavez couldn’t even lift his feet onto the pedals of the gym’s stationary bike. But personal trainer Sean Thompson slowly helped the elderly man gain confidence and strength and after two years, Chavez works out twice a week, riding the bike and lifting weights. A video by the San Diego Union-Tribune shows him working out.
“He’s doing so good,” she said. “And the gym is the best part.”
Her father is not only more active, he’s sharper mentally, she says. War time stories he had trouble recalling now come to mind more easily, and in greater detail, she says.
He is a bit of local legend in San Diego County, giving speeches to students and to veteran’s groups, and enjoying do so when he used to be incredibly shy about it, his daughter said.
“He never talked about it as a young man,” she said. “Now he talks to everybody about it all the time... I attribute it all to him getting out and exercising and talking to people.”
Her dad was a 27-year-old Seaman First Class on December 7, 1941. He and his crew were in a minesweeper, clearing a harbor entrance when they saw a small Japanese submarine’s periscope and dropped charges to blow it up.
Chavez went home and went to bed and was sleeping when the early morning Sunday bombing raid started, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
He spent the war on transport ships and retired in 1945.
After that, he worked as a landscaper. “He was outside all the time,” his daughter said.
To mark the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, Kathleen and her father traveled to Hawaii, thanks to the fundraising effort by his community. He will meet other veterans for a reunion, where he will be honored.
Earlier this year, Kathleen said she also intended to keep taking him to the gym. “He enjoys it very much,” she said. “It gets him out of bed. It gets him to be able to talk to someone else besides me,” she says, laughing.
“He never listens to me, anyway,” she added.
A version of this story was originally posted to InsideEdition.com on March 24, 2016.