SAN DIEGO, Cal. (CBS) - The oldest-known survivor of the attack on pearl harbor returns to Hawaii this weekend to commemorate its 75th anniversary. His trip is possible thanks to a fundraising effort by his community. At 104 years old, this may be his last trip back.
As the first bombs fell on the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor, then Seaman First Class Ray Chavez had just finished a shift sweeping for mines. He rushed over to help.
"All the harbor was on fire, all the ships were smoking black smoke because the Japanese had torpedoed and bombed."
More than 2,400 Americans died that day. At 104 years old, Chavez is known as the oldest living survivor of the attack. The veteran didn’t talk about what he witnessed until 50 years later.
"I saw all the men that were lost and all the ships that were sunk. It didn't take me right away; it was the next day that it really hit me, and I realized what had happened."
Today, Chavez has not lost his fighting spirit. Three years ago, at 101 years old, he decided to go to the gym.
Chavez weighed just 93 pounds and after six months of working out with his trainer, Sean Thompson, he gained 20 pounds of muscle.
"He stretches me and pulls me and turns me around and oh my gosh it's great"
Chavez's determination inspired the gym and local rotary club to raise $13,000 to send Chavez, his daughter and Thompson to Hawaii to attend the Pearl Harbor 75th anniversary ceremonies on Wednesday.
"He's a dying breed of really selfless bravery and patriotism that you don't see anymore," said Thompson.
"I'm very proud to serve and help and quite a few people tell me that I inspire them because of my age and being able to do these exercises and other things," Chavez said.
Chavez knows this may be his last trip back and he only has one request - to go to a luau.
The Paway Rotary Club will also send another veteran who survived the 9-11 terror attacks on the trip.