For most people, birthdays are mere milestones. But for Ray Chavez, every March 10 is an annual miracle.
The oldest living Pearl Harbor veteran turned 105 years old on Friday, kicking off a three-day celebration in his hometown of San Diego, California.
"Somebody upstairs is taking care of me and has extended my life this long and I'm very grateful," Chavez said.
NBC News first met Chavez in December, when cameras followed him through his return journey to Pearl Harbor for the 75th anniversary of the infamous attack. It was then that he shared his motto for a long life: survival of the fittest. And he takes that seriously, spending every Tuesday and Friday working out with his trainer.
It was only fitting that the gym would be where Chavez kicked off his birthday celebration. He completed a workout and then had cake with friends.
On Saturday, a vehicle procession fit for a president led Chavez and his family to the USS Midway. The old ship, now a museum, was the docked location for a sunset bash in Ray’s honor. Hundreds gathered for a concert, and speeches celebrated Chavez’s life as part of the greatest generation.
“It’s been surprising because I didn’t expect so many people,” Chavez said.
Many letters with birthday wishes were sent ahead of the event. One of those letters, sent from former President George H.W. Bush, was read aloud to the crowd: “This former World War II veteran and former Commander in Chief salutes you.”
Finally on Sunday, just his closest crew gathered at a church reception hall. Friends and family shared lunch and time with Chavez as he listened to a mariachi band perform, the weekend’s events still not exhausting his tireless spirit. Several members of the local chapter of Pearl Harbor survivors came to salute their friend.
The group meets once a month and Chavez rarely misses a meeting.
"It's very important because we’re going one by one and we want to capture as much of the enjoyment of being together as possible," said chapter president and veteran Stuart Hedley.
But all the weekend’s birthday fanfare couldn’t shake Chavez’s enduring humility.
"I'm not a hero," he said. "I did what I did because I volunteered and I enjoyed doing it."
Chavez feels he’s just an old sailor with a completed bucket list and 105 reasons to be grateful. He took the microphone to thank the crowd at Saturday’s event.
"I will never forget it for the rest of my life, I don't know how long that will be," said Chavez.
And as he blew out the candles on his cake, a wish was made for birthdays to come.