celebration of life

USS Midway Museum Hosts Celebration of Life for San Diego Veteran Who Died of COVID-19

The museum honored Stu Hedley, a Pearl Harbor survivor, World War II hero and community icon who died in early August, just shy of his 100th birthday

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Stu Hedley, the former president of the local Carnation Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, may have been small in stature, but colleagues say he was a giant of a man.

San Diego community and military leaders gathered on the flight deck of the USS Midway Wednesday morning to celebrate Hedley's life.

The Navy veteran died in early August from COVID-19. He was 99.

NBC 7's Dave Summers spoke to a Navy Chief who became good friends for Navy veteran Stu Hedley.

Ceremony Highlights

The service began in true military fashion with a bagpipe rendition of "Amazing Grace" followed by the national anthem and the pledge of allegiance.

Fellow veterans Mickey Ganitch and Robert Fernandez were in attendance as well as Hedley's daughter, Nancy Hedley, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Kathy Hansen, USS Pearl Harbor Master Chief and the master of ceremonies, was the first of many speakers who honored the late hero.

"While this is a celebration of life and there is sadness, we are so grateful for the time we've had with him," she said.

Hansen added, "Stu was charismatic, kind and giving, he had the ability to make all of us feel like we were his best friend and we are important."

Mayor Todd Gloria echoed Hansen's sentiments.

"Stu lived every single day of his 99-years to the absolute fullest," Gloria said, "he was a treasured member of our community; someone who so many folks lives were touched because of him and his service."

Trinity Hanson, a local high school senior, was one of these community members. She said her friendship with Hedley was the reason she was joining the military after graduation.

"I promised Stu I would always remember and share his stories," she said, "Anytime I am asked why I will be joining the military, I can tell stories of Stu and how he has inspired me and many others."

The World War II hero was given full military honors during his memorial service including a nine-gun salute, two-bell ceremony, and missing-man formation flyover.

The ceremony wrapped up with words from Hedley himself, put together by the Best Defense Foundation.

"Stay in school! Don't quit under any conditions! Freedom is not free!" are some of the final words that rang in the ears of attendees.

Remembering Stu Hedley

USS Midway Community Director David Koontz reflected on Hedley's life ahead of the ceremony.

Koontz told NBC 7 Hedley was the most engaging person he ever had the chance to meet.

"Wherever he was people were just drawn to him. But, he was also a tremendously humble man," Koontz said.

Hedley served for two decades, from 1940 to 1960, and was a Seaman First Class aboard the USS West Virginia where he miraculously survived a direct bombing attack on December 7, 1941, the day Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor and launched the United States into World War II.

However, Hedley never thought of himself as a hero.

"Anytime somebody wanted to call him a hero, he pointed to others," Koontz said.

Over the last 40 years, the retired Navy chief petty officer spoke to over 200,000 people around the country to ensure those who courageously served and sacrificed their lives during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor are never forgotten.

Stu’s message – “Remember Pearl Harbor; Keep America Alert.”

In 2016, Hedley spoke with NBC 7 about his mission to make sure Pearl Harbor Day is celebrated and remembered, forever in every corner of the nation.

At a special event commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor, one of the few survivors shares his concern about the passage of history from his generation to the next.

“History is fading into the past,” Hedley said. “People are forgetting what the men did to guarantee their freedoms of today.”

Hedley's comments came at an event commemorating the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor on the deck of USS Midway.

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