To know Ray Daves was to love him. And last Thursday, Trinity Baptist Church overflowed with people who loved him.
Daves, 91, the Navy radioman who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor and the sinking of the USS Yorktown during the Battle of Midway, died June 3.
I met Ray four years ago when I wrote a story about the Lilac City Chapter of Pearl Harbor Survivors. His first words to me were, “Wow! Reporters are getting better looking all the time. You’d better sit next to me – you might give one of the old guys a heart attack!” Ray was 87 at the time.
At his memorial service, tales of his legendary humor abounded. One friend shared a classic story involving Ray’s beloved wife Adeline. Adeline sent Ray to the store and told him, “Get a carton of milk, and if they have eggs, get six.” A few hours later he returned with six cartons of milk. Adeline said, “Why the heck did you get six cartons of milk?” Ray answered, “Well. They had eggs.” (Think about it.)
Adeline was no slouch in the wit department, either. Ray introduced us when I was covering a Pearl Harbor survivor’s presentation at Chase Middle School. He said, “I’m Cindy’s number one fan. I’ve got a scrapbook of her stories. I’m crazy about her.”
His wife took my hand and said, “Honey, you can do a lot better!”
Though Ray loved to laugh, he could scarcely speak of his World War II experiences without tears.
When he and five other Pearl Harbor survivors spoke to a seventh-grade social studies class at Chase Middle School in 2007, he told the students that the veterans don’t talk about their experiences much, even among themselves.
“The information you heard today, you’ve never heard before. It will be lost when we pass on.” Ray paused. His voice shook. “But you’ve heard it. We hope you’ll value the freedoms we have in this country, freedoms that wouldn’t be possible if not for veterans – not just us, but veterans of all wars.”
Each time Ray shared his memories of the attack on Pearl Harbor, it cost him. It forced him to revisit a time and a place that scarred both his body and his soul. He shared his stories for only one reason. That reason is found in the motto of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association: “Remember Pearl Harbor. Keep America alert. Eternal Vigilance is the price of liberty.”
When Adeline died two years ago, Ray was ready to go, too. He couldn’t understand why God left him here without her. His spirits sagged. But when he heard he was approved to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., courtesy of the Honor Flight program, he rallied.
I interviewed him upon his return. He said that as he gazed at the Freedom Wall with its 4,000 gold stars each representing 100 American lives lost in the war, he thought of his friend George Maybee.
Maybee was killed on the battleship USS Arizona, which sank during the Pearl Harbor attack. And though schoolchildren approached the veterans at the memorial and whispered words of thanks, Ray shook his head and said Maybee and those who lost their lives during the attack were the true heroes.
But others think differently. After the war, Ray went to work for the Civil Aeronautics Authority in Spokane and retired from the renamed Federal Aviation Administration in 1973. In February, the tower at Spokane International Airport was named for Ray Daves – it’s apparently the only federal air traffic control tower named for anyone.
The dedication was the idea of FAA employee Tom Torvik, who was inspired by the 2008 book about Ray, “Radioman: An Eyewitness Account of Pearl Harbor and World War II in the Pacific,” by Spokane author Carol Edgemon Hipperson.
Ray was eager to sign my copy of the book. As autographs go, it probably wouldn’t fetch much on eBay, but its value is beyond measure to me. Inside the flyleaf, Ray wrote: “To Cindy Hval, My dear, dear friend, Your loyalty and friendship to the PHSA (Pearl Harbor Survivors Association) and me personally is deeply appreciated. It is a privilege and honor to count you among my close friends.”
When I got home from his funeral, I pulled the book from my shelf and ran my fingers across his precise penmanship. This is what I wish I could tell him.
Ray, the privilege and the honor was all mine. And now that you aren’t here to shake your head and chide me, I can say what I’ve always felt.
You were more than my friend. You were my hero.