Chula Vista Pearl Harbor survivor Henry Mesa Cruz is being remembered this weekend for his service to the country.
Cruz passed away in his sleep March 12 at 91 years old.
He was born and raised in Agana, Guam, and moved to San Diego after joining the U.S. Navy.
He met his wife Lorraine, 76, through mutual friends and married three years later.
“He wanted to marry me when I was 15 and I said, ‘If you’re around in three years, I will,’” she said. “And he did that.”
They were married for 57 years and had three daughters and one son.
The children grew up in the home their parents bought on Sandstone Court in Chula Vista in 1965.
Cruz served in the Navy and the Navy Reserves respectively from February 1939 to September 1945 and left with an honorable discharge.
Daughter Cynthia Villasenor, 41, said he shared war stories with the family.
Cruz was aboard the USS Arizona the morning it was bombed by the Japanese on Dec. 7, 1941.
Cruz had leave the evening before but decided to stay on board. He was one of 334 men to survive. Now only 15 remain living.
“We were very proud to have him as our own American hero,” daughter Lydia Guerrero, 54, said.
Cruz’s health began to deteriorate about three years ago. He suffered from Alzheimer’s, post traumatic stress syndrome, emphysema and toward the latter part of his life had several falls.
He had been in hospice since December after suffering a brain hemorrhage, which made him immobile, and remained in hospice care until his passing.
Cruz was active in the community in his younger years.
“When he has younger, he did community service as a manager and coach with the South Bay Pony Baseball League,” Guerrero said.
Cruz also spoke to various South Bay high schools about being a Pearl Harbor survivor, according to his daughters.
“He wanted to inspire kids,” Villasenor said. “He was a humble man.”
The Cruz family was recognized for Henry’s service last year during a program called Christmas in October, focused on giving back to veterans.
The program utilizes volunteers in the community to fix up homes for free.
Program chair Emerald Randolph contacted the Cruz family and asked if they would like to be a recipient and they agreed. Approximately 50 volunteers from Loews and Job Corps painted the walls, installed new carpet, a stove and microwave and did landscaping in the front and back yards.
“It was our year to recognize the contributions of service men and women to the country,” Randolph said. “We thought it was the least we could do.”
But perhaps the most special addition was the new flagpole and flag that the volunteers installed in the front lawn.
“That was Henry’s Christmas,” Lorraine said. “They put up a flag and he stayed out there for an hour and talked with people.”
“I’d like people to remember my father as someone who was always there for whoever needed him,” Guerrero said.
Villasenor said he was a good provider.
“Me and Lydia were extremely close to my father,” Villasenor said. “We were the last ones to take him to his Pearl Harbor reunion. We celebrate every year.”
Lorraine said in prior years she and Henry attended Pearl Harbor reunions.
“He was a good man and a good father,” Lorraine said.
The last Hawaii reunion Cruz made it to was in 2006, according to Villasenor.
“A big part of my pride in my father is his contribution to the country and surviving WWII,” she said. “For me, he was always a rock. He was always there.”
Cruz worked at North Island Naval Base as a sheet metal mechanic and received several special achievement awards during his employment of 20 years.
Prior to that he worked for Convair aircraft, which was later taken over by General Dynamics.
He was a member of the San Diego County Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, Carnation Chapter 3.
Cruz and Lorraine have 14 grand children and 11 great-grandchildren.