Stuart Hedley is a Pearl Harbor survivor. He’s part of a generation that is nearly gone.
Hedley, 91, moved to San Diego on Dec. 5, 1955, and began his military service Aug. 20, 1940, in the U.S. Navy.
He was born in West Palm Beach, Fla., and raised on Lake Ontario in Buffalo, N.Y.
“I wanted to join when I was 17 but I was only 4 foot 11 and weighed 112 pounds and they wouldn’t take me, so they put me in the Civilian Conservation Corps to build me up,” Hedley said.
Two years later, Hedley had gained 10 pounds, three inches and was accepted.
“When we graduated I was assigned to the battleship USS West Virginia, which was anchored at Long Beach,” Hedley said. “We went aboard on my birthday, Oct. 29, 1940. I stayed on there until Dec. 7, 1941.”
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor Hedley was transferred to the USS San Francisco, a heavy cruiser also used as a battleship.
The ship mostly did bombardments and engaged in night battle in Cape Esperance in the South Pacific.
“Several of our ships got hit in the battle … but when we were in the battle of Savo off Guadalcanal we got hit pretty bad,” Hedley said. “We had four Medals of Honor awarded in one night aboard that ship. We had 27 fires on board the ship at one time.”
Hedley said that out of 900 men, more than 100 were killed and even more were wounded. While the ship was badly damaged it did not sink and was brought back to the states, repaired and sent off to the Island of the Illusions in 1943.
“They assigned us to the Bering Sea — the roughest water I’ve ever been in in my life,” Hedley said. “Between Russia and Alaska, we got to see the aurora borealis —the northern lights.”
During this time the men weren’t in battle but on control, guiding the waters so that no enemy ships enter the area.
“Then we left the Northern Pacific, went back to Pearl and from Pearl we went and recaptured Wake Island,” Hedley said. “We bombarded the beach...”
In 1944 Hedley returned home to visit with his father who had cancer.
“While I was there I attended gyro (plane) school,” Hedley said. “Gyros are instruments that control all the compasses and repeaters to the ship.”
After graduating he got assigned to destroyer training in Norfolk, Va., attended another gyro school and was transferred to help put the USS Massey back into commission.
Following a pit stop in San Diego, Hedley’s ship headed for Pearl Harbor then to the battle of Okinawa.
They bombarded Japanese installations, which was the precursor for the Marines who would go ashore.
“We would destroy their machine guns nests,” Hedley said. “Then … the kamikazes are coming at us. Many of our destroyers were hit. Our aircraft carriers were hit. Luckily the Massey was never hit.”
On Dec. 5, 1945, the ship again left for San Diego and Hedley had 96 days of leave.
“After leave I ended up in movie school in San Diego and then from there I was assigned to Washington D.C. where I stayed for six years,” he said. “I transferred to intercommunications school, then deep sea diving school and it was there that I met my wife.”
Hedley met Wanda while she was working for the FBI in January 1949.
“We got engaged on April 16, 1949, and got married on June 18, 1949,” he said. “We’ll be celebrating our 64th anniversary this June.”
Hedley left D.C. in April 1951 for Charleston, S.C., where he went aboard the destroyer USS Dashiell and later arrived in Philadelphia in October 1953.
“On Nov. 8, 1950, our first child was born, Raymond,” Hedley said. “In 1952 in July, we had our first daughter.”
Hedley then moved his family from Washington to Newport, R.I.
On May 3, 1954, Hedley made chief petty officer, served four years shore duty in San Diego and went to motion picture operation school at the Naval Training Center.
On Aug. 1, 1955, Wanda and Hedley had twin girls and brought them cross-country.
Today, Hedley volunteers his time speaking about his experience in the military to students in high school and college as well as organizations. Hedley said he’d continue to give talks as long as he is able to.
“We have here in San Diego the largest organization in the country and I think were down to 48 right now,” Hedley said. “When I joined the organization in ’84 there were almost 500 of us.”