Twenty or 30 hugs a day will make you live a long, happy life. That’s the lesson Command Master Chief Kathleen Hansen learned from Pearl Harbor survivor Stuart Hedley.

Hansen recalled that wisdom and other words to live by as she honored Hedley as “charismatic, kind and giving” Wednesday at a Celebration of Life for the veteran who died earlier this month at age 99 from COVID-19 complications.

“I never heard Stu say an unkind word about anyone, ever,” said Hansen, who assisted Hedley for 20 years.

Hedley was a prominent figure in San Diego at military history ceremonies and spoke to countless students about the lessons of World War II, specifically saying “Remember Pearl Harbor. Keep America alert.”

But it was the length of his remarks that Hansen as other speakers joked about at the ceremony on the USS Midway.

“Whenever Stu and I traveled for him to speak,” Hansen said, “I would stand in the back of the room and say, ‘Two minutes, Stu.” Did we ever get two minutes out of Stu? Maybe two hours. But what an amazing storyteller.”

Referring to his kindness, Hansen recounted that in his neighborhood, he mowed neighbors’ lawns, took trash cans out to the curb and walked their dogs.

“What an amazing man,” she concluded.

Darcy Pavich, a former Navy chaplain, noted how the USS Midway had been accustomed to seeing Hedley at various events.

“We know that he is still with us,” she said. “May we find comfort with one another and know that he will not be forgotten.”

The historic aircraft carrier permanently docked downtown is strongly connected to Hedley, said Mac McLaughlin, president and chief executive officer of the USS Midway Museum.

“Yes, we will miss Stu terribly,” McLaughlin said. “We will miss his spirit, but his legacy is the most important thing to continue on this ship.”

While Hedley is most remembered for what he did on Dec. 7, 1941, what he did on Dec. 8 was the beginning of his legacy, he said. He continued to serve his country and community.

As a 20-year-old sailor, Hedley “manned up” by finishing his WWII service commitment and served in additional battles, despite watching his friends around him dying.

A Japanese shell blew a hole through USS West Virginia turret No. 3 right by Hedley’s feet, but he survived the attack that killed more than 100 shipmates. 
Hedley had to swim around and under flaming oil while he dodged shattered glass and flying shrapnel before being rescued.

Born in Miami in 1921, Hedley joined the Navy in 1940.

After serving in the Navy for 20 years, Hedley worked for the La Mesa Spring Valley School District for 20 years.

Rear Adm. Stephen Barnett, commander of Navy Region Southwest, told of an audience of hundreds that there was no telling how many young people Hedley positively influenced. Barnett added that he was always impressed by Hedley’s commitment and physical endurance.

Holly Shaffner, public relations director of Honor Flight San Diego said members of the organization would remember the veteran for “his tireless energy, infectious smile and the best hugs that anyone could ask for.”

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria also said he would miss conversations and hugs with Hedley, who he called a longtime friend.

“Stu lived every single day of his 99 years to the absolute fullest,” Gloria said. “Put simply, Stu’s life helped to make San Diego a better community for all of us.”

The mayor said Hedley should be honored by never forgetting the history and lessons of Pearl Harbor and by leaving the world a better place like he did.

Hedley could brighten everyone’s day, the mayor said, adding, “We all could use more Stu Hedleys in this city and this country.” 

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