Sailors in a motor launch rescue a man overboard alongside the burning USS West Virginia during or shortly after the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor.
  • Sailors in a motor launch rescue a man overboard alongside the burning USS West Virginia during or shortly after the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor.
  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it
  • Chief Stuart Hedley
  • United States Navy
  • World War II and Korean War
  • Public speaker
  • Clairemont

Juan Hidalgo (right) in Iraq: "The enemy seems to be on drugs."

It was Sunday morning at 5 o’clock. Hedley jumped out of bed below deck on the battleship USS West Virginia and began shining his skate shoes. he had a roller-skate date later that day with Juanita Suarez.

The date was December 7, 1941. The port was Pearl Harbor. As Hedley prepared to go on liberty he sat down with a quartermaster for a cup of coffee. He tells what happens next.

Stuart Hedley: "We thrashed like mad to get the oil and water and fire away."

“All of a sudden I hear ‘away fire and rescue party!’ The officer of the deck saw a fire on Ford Island without realizing Pearl Harbor was under attack.

“I made a beeline from the quartermaster’s quarters up five decks to my locker to get my hat. There I got kicked in the seat of my pants by First Class Boatswain’s Mate Hicks who says, ‘Get to your battle station on the double! This is the real thing!’ I realized I wasn’t going to put out no fire.

“When I came out on deck planes were diving from every angle, their .50-caliber machine guns splitting open the deck. When I saw Lt. Commander White shooting at planes with his .45 I thought, ‘What kind of war is this?’ He asked me where my battle station was. I pointed to gun turret 3.

“When I was going up the ladder to the turret a Japanese torpedo plane flew by the port side of ship and I could see the faces of the pilot, co-pilot, and radioman. They were laughing like everything.

“W.E. Crosslin was already down in the pit at his trainer station. He trained the gun’s direction. As the gun pointer, I set its elevation. This is where we had to be because it’s our battle station. But we’re not gonna fire no 16-inch shell in Pearl. We’d destroy the harbor.

“We could hear the machine gun bullets hitting the turret and we felt the thud of a torpedo and Crosslin says, ‘Stu, let’s see what’s going on.’ So we took the sight cap off the periscope. That’s when I saw the Arizona explode and about 32 bodies flying through the air.

“A few minutes later an explosion blew away our foot pedals and the hatch by our feet and knocked us back into the elevating screw. An armor-piercing shell blew away part of the turret and lodged inside without detonating.

“Two things saved my life. The shell did not explode and my feet were not down where they were supposed to be. If they were I’d have no legs and probably wouldn’t have survived.

“Crosslin says, ‘Stu, let’s get the hell out of here.’ We came out on the deck. The ship had a 15-degree list and water was up to our knees. Gasoline from a plane and glycerin from the top of the turret ignited when the shell hit. Fire was everywhere. All eleven men from the other side of the turret were burned beyond recognition. I said to Crosslin, ‘If I don’t get killed today I’ll live to see the end of this war.’

“Then our skipper, Captain Mervyn Bennion, was killed. Shrapnel from a bomb drop on the Tennessee flew across to our ship and tore his stomach open. He died in the arms of Doris Miller, his orderly.

“Dorie picked up a .50-caliber machine gun, held it in the crux of his arm and started shooting down Japanese planes as they flew by.

“We were ordered to abandon ship. We had to go over a line to the Tennessee, which was between us and the beach. Five of our buddies were jimmying across the line and a Zero came in and strafed all five of them. I told Crosslin ‘were not going over any lines.’

“After we found a gun barrel to run across and jumped to the Tennessee a Marine yelled at us, ‘Get over to the beach!’ ‘How?’ ‘Swim, you idiot!’ The fire was three times as high as a house.

“We jumped in and swam underwater. We broke surface twice before we got to the beach. The water was full of oil and it was blazing. We thrashed like mad to get the oil and water and fire away just to get a breath of air and then went right back under. At the beach we got picked up by an ambulance and taken to the dispensary.”

Hedley was assigned to the heavy cruiser USS San Francisco the next day. Emotion shows on his face when he says he wanted Crosslin to come to the San Francisco with him. Crosslin was assigned to the USS Honolulu and was later killed by a torpedo strike.

Hedley participated in 13 major battles in the Pacific aboard the San Francisco and he was aboard the USS Massey when atomic bombs were dropped and Japan surrendered. He also served in the Korean War. He never got a scratch.

  • Petty Officer Second Class Hinson R. Hicks
  • United States Navy
  • World War II, Korea, Vietnam
  • Chula Vista

Hinson Hicks: “We had some good days and we had some bad days."

“When it’s calm it’s nice but it can get pretty rough out at sea on them destroyers. It can be hard to get some rest. I couldn’t get seasick, because I had to go down and fix food for the officers. I wanted to shoot guns, but back in them days they didn’t let you be anything but a steward. We couldn’t even wear our rank. They give you what we call a ‘loaf of bread,’ a little white marker you put lower on your arm.

“In the Korean War a ship called for help at Pusan. So many ships came it was like a city in the water. All of them guns and all of that firing. The enemy was shooting their big guns at us but the shells were dropping in the water. It looked like a city in that water. I know someone took a picture. That’s a picture I would like to have.

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

More from SDReader

Comments

Sign in to comment

Let’s Be Friends

Subscribe for local event alerts, concerts tickets, promotions and more from the San Diego Reader

Close