From the oldest Pearl Harbor survivor– a minesweeper man
Navy Seaman Raymond Chavez is now 104 years old but he remembers one of the first sightings of a Japanese midget submarine hours before the attack and racing back to his ship once the fight was on.
Chavez was one of just 13 men on the crew of the 85-foot long converted wooden-hulled purse seiner USS Condor, pressed into service as a Coast Guard-manned coastal minesweeper (AMc-14).
While conducting routine sweeps outside the harbor, the crew spotted what is is thought to have been the first enemy contact at 0350– more than four hours before the air attack began– when they saw what they felt to be an enemy submarine.
“He said, Mr.McCoy, we got company,” recalled Chavez, who was at the minesweeper’s helm, remembering the lookout saying to the officer of the deck.
The contact was handed over to the crew of the destroyer USS Ward, who would later fire the first American shot of the Pacific War on the submarine around 0630, while Chavez’s ship was ordered to return to Pearl.
He had only just returned home and gotten asleep when his wife awoke him to the news of the air attack.
“You could see the black smoke from one end to the other,” said Chavez. “The ships were on fire, and burning their oil.”
Rushing back to his ship, he spent the next 10 days underway, first fighting the Japanese, then helping with the recovery.
“I started crying,” said Chavez. “I’m not ashamed to admit it…all the Sailors who were trying to save themselves, and all the dead bodies, and the oil.