Invade this: Oldest Pearl Harbor veteran pumping iron at 104

Ray Chavez hits the gym twice a week. © jellyofthesea
Before 9/11, the attack on Pearl Harbor was the moment America never forgot. For Ray Chavez, surviving it gave him a lust for life that’s lasted 104 years - and counting.

The Navy veteran hopes he is fit enough to attend the 75th commemoration in Hawaii later this year.

And from the looks of it, that won’t be a problem.

The centenarian centurion celebrated his birthday at a San Diego gym Tuesday with his daughter Kathleen and personal trainer. The veteran trains twice a week and credits it for his longevity, along with a healthy lifestyle.

Until recently, Colorado resident James Downing was credited as the oldest survivor of Pearl Harbor, but the 102-year-old kid gracefully handed over his title upon learning of Chavez’s age.

Both men marked 74 years at the ceremony in Hawaii last year and are expected to travel again this December.

Despite the now-annual trip, Chavez wasn’t always so keen on visiting the site where more than 2,400 of his fellow Americans lost their lives on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese military attacked the US base in retaliation for America's control of the oil supply.

He didn’t return until 50 years later.

“The first time I went back, I cried. It made me feel a little sad because I remember we were in the harbor pulling up all the dead bodies from the oil and taking the men who were alive to the hospital. It was a terrible memory,” Chavez told the San Diego Union Tribune.

On the day of the attack, the then-30-year-old Chavez left his wife and daughter to help fight at the base.

He spent the next nine days on continuous duty before returning to his family.

He retired from the Navy in 1945 suffering from the psychological effects of combat. His daughter said it took three months before he stopped shaking from the stress of war.

Chavez has become a local celebrity in San Diego, being interviewed by high school students, serving as grand marshal of a parade, and throwing out the first pitch for the San Diego Padres baseball team on Armed Forces Day.

He prepared for the big pitch by practicing for six weeks before the big day to avoid any mishaps, such as this one.

There are 2,000 US survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack with organizers of this year’s ceremony hoping to attract as many as 200 of them this December.