Ray Daves, the Navy radioman who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor and the sinking of the USS Yorktown during the Battle of Midway, died Friday at the Spokane Veterans Home. He was 91.
Daves, a retired air traffic controller who lived in Deer Park, died two days after his birthday, said Carol Edgemon Hipperson, who recounted Daves’ life in “Radioman: An Eyewitness Account of Pearl Harbor and World War II in the Pacific.” His passing also comes three months after the air traffic control tower at Spokane International Airport was named in his honor.
Hipperson, who met Daves nine years ago and interviewed him extensively for her book, said she last spoke to him on his birthday, Wednesday, and he seemed fine. But she added that the years since the death of his wife, Adeline, in January 2009, have been difficult for him.
“He really didn’t want to go on living without her,” Hipperson said. But later that year, he and his daughter, Rayma, had fulfilled a dream – to see the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., as part of the Honor Flight program. When he returned home, he got another piece of good news.
“After that, he heard the air traffic controllers were on a drive to name the tower after him,” Hipperson said. “That kept him going.”
The Ray Daves Air Traffic Control Tower was dedicated Feb. 25 after a bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers was signed into law. McMorris Rodgers presented a copy of the bill to Daves during the ceremony.
Daves was born June 1, 1920, in Missouri and was raised in Arkansas, Hipperson said. He met Adeline Bentz as a teenager working for the Civilian Conservation Corps in North Idaho. They corresponded for six years before being married, she added.
As he recounted in a 2007 Spokesman-Review article, Daves was a 21-year-old Navy sailor stationed in Hawaii the day the Japanese attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. He’d been on his way to breakfast when the first bomb exploded on Ford Island. In those early chaotic minutes, he went to a storage shed for more ammunition and watched Japanese airplanes strafe boats that were ferrying sailors back to their ships.
“The sailors had been on liberty. They were wearing their dress whites,” he said. “They didn’t stay white for very long.”
In “Radioman,” he told Hipperson about the Yorktown’s sinking on June 4, 1942. “The sun was shining on the water, making rainbows on the oil leaking from the stern. The men on either side of me were jumping, and the officer was yelling at me, ‘Go! Go now!’ I could feel the next group of guys crowding behind me, pressing against my back. It was too late to change my mind. I took a deep breath and jumped into the rainbows.”
After the war, he and Adeline returned to Spokane to be near her family, Hipperson said. In 1946 he went to work for the Civil Aeronautics Authority, which became the the Federal Aviation Administration. He retired in 1973.
But up until he moved to the Veterans Home last fall, Hipperson said, Daves kept his radio skills up.
“He still took Morse code a couple times a week to keep his mind active,” she said.
Daves and his wife had two daughters, Janet, who died in the 1970s, and Rayma Daves, who survives him, Hipperson said.
Daves was active in the Lilac City Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, having served as its president. Club member Ralph Virene said Daves was a man of deep religious faith. In recent months, Virene would visit him at the Veterans Home to read passages from the Bible.
“You couldn’t have a better person,” Virene said. “He was very devoted to his wife and family.”