Cesar Chavez receives U.S. Navy honors

More than two decades after his death in 1993, civil rights and labor activist Cesar Chavez Thursday received military honors from the U.S Navy at his grave site in Keene, Calif.

Family, supporters and active duty and reserve military gathered to present Helen Chavez, Cesar Chavez widow, with a folded American flag on the 22nd anniversary of his death. The Navy Operational Support Center organized the event, which included a rifle salute and a bugler playing Taps along with the tradition of folding an American flag.

Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay

Before Chavez became a father, an activist and a champion for workers’ rights, he was a Navy veteran, serving in the Western Pacific following World War II. Chavez described his time in the Navy as “the worst two years of my life” according to a PBS biography.

In 2012, the Navy named a cargo ship after Chavez, the USNS Cesar Chavez, the first naval vessel named for a Latino.

Following his service in the Navy, Chavez got involved in community organizing in 1952 when he met Fred Ross, a legendary community organizer, according to The Chavez Foundation website.

During his early years as a community organizer, he focused on voter registration and get-out-to-vote drives, according to The Chavez Foundation website.

On his birthday in 1962, Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association, which would later become the United Farm Workers, which fought for the rights of farm workers in the U.S.

But recruiting for the union was difficult for Chavez and found that most people were too afraid to join, according to The Chavez Foundation website.

Chavez fought tirelessly for the rights of farm workers and in 1970 got grape farmers union contracts that granted better pay, benefits and protecting after a five year long strike, according to the United Farm Workers website.

In 1988, Chavez fasted for 36 days to protest the terrible suffering of the farm workers and their children, the crushing of farm worker rights, the dangers of pesticides, and the denial of fair and free elections, according to The United Farm Workers website.

His legacy continues today, and each year on March 31, people gather to remember the man who fought for the rights of farmworkers across the nation.