He goes by Stu. His voice is youthful and strong with a hint of the defiance that has taken him far in life.
That same strength is what got Stuart “Stu” Hedly through the horror of December 7, 1941. Born in West Palm Beach, Florida, and raised in northern New York, Stu tried to join the U.S. Navy at the age of 17 but was quickly denied entry. The reason: he was too small, too skinny for Navy regulations. Angered by this and knowing he could do the job, Stu would spend several months in a civilian capacity assisting the military, where he would add muscle and size to his frame. “I gained three inches and over ten pounds!” Stu emphatically relates. The added size and determination showed proof to the recruiters that he was indeed Navy material. Young Stu was assigned to the USS West Virginia, a hard-working crew that sensed war was impending.
December 7, 1941, began as a calm day, despite reports that Japanese submarines had been sighted doing reconnaissance. Out of nowhere, the attack began. Japanese fighters and torpedo bombers poured over the horizon, intent on the destruction of the U.S. Pacific fleet. Hedley made his way towards his battle station at turret number three, where he served as a spotter for the gun. Chaos ensued, with the West Virginia taking several hits. Stu, who had been chastised as a child about leaning back in his chair with his feet up, narrowly escaped harm. A torpedo or bomb hit his emplacement and where his legs would have been, had he been leaning back, blew a hole through the compartment. If he had not been sitting properly, he would have lost his legs.
With the West Virginia reeling from the blows it had received, Stu and his shipmates made their way topside. Stu recalls leaping into the water feet-first and coming up amid debris and burning oil and swimming for his life towards the shoreline. That raw determination and defiance had kept him alive to fight another day.
Stu would later be assigned to other ships and would see action in the Pacific War. He retired from the military in 1960 and went on to work as a civilian contractor for a company inspecting naval vessels. Today, he makes his home in San Diego with his wife of many years.