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We look back on the attack of Pearl Harbor 70 years later, with a local Pearl Harbor survivor and a historian who tells us what it was like in San Diego following the attack.

December 7, 2011 1:13 p.m.


Stuart Hedley, President, Pearl Harbor Association, Chapter 3 (San Diego)

Iris Bergstrom, history professor, USD

Related Story: San Diego Remembers Pearl Harbor 70 Years Later


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. President Franklin D. Roosevelt christened December 7th, 1941, as the day that would live in infamily. It's the date of the Japanese attack on pearl harbor. The attack killed more than 24 Americans and brought the United States into World War II. One of the slogans that arose during the war was remember pearl harbor. Now the living memory of pearl harbor is dwindling. On today's 7th anniversary of the attack, we speak with a San Diego veteran of pearl harbor about the time passing, and those things we should never forget. I'd like to welcome Stewart headily, he's president of the San Diego chapter of the pearl harbor survivors association. Mr. Headily, thank you so much for coming in and speaking with us.

HEDLEY: Thank you for inviting me.

CAVANAUGH: And Doctor Iris Bergstrom is professor of history at the yesterday of San Diego. Welcome back

BERGSTROM: Thank you, Maureen. I'd glad to be back.

CAVANAUGH: Mr. Hedley, I don't think you mind if I tell your audience that you're 90 years old?

HEDLEY: No, nope.

CAVANAUGH: No problem with that. So you were serving on the USS West Virginia in pearl harbor 70 years ago?

HEDLEY: Right.

CAVANAUGH: Is that day still -- does it still stick out in your mind?

HEDLEY: Oh, absolutely.

CAVANAUGH: Tell us what that morning was like. Can you walk us through the events as they unfolded for you?

HEDLEY: Well, it started at 5:30 in the morning for me. Because I was getting prepared to go ashore. My girlfriend's mother was going to pick me up on the dock at 9:00. We were going to go on a picnic. In the process of getting ready, my dress shoes were missing. So I asked one of the fellows in the compartment, kid you see my dress shoes? He says, oh, yeah, Pete heartily wore them last night. Pete Hartley was a first class meat, 32 years in the Navy, and you didn't expect what he did want so I says, where is he? He says he's in after steering. After steering is all the way down, five decks in the stern of the ship. So I went down there. And sure enough, he had my shoes on. He was drunk, sound asleep, so I took them off from him, and as I was walking out, that's the quarter master's compartment there, cherry, a buddy of mine, third class quarter master says, Stu, having a cup of coffee? So I says sure. So we sat down, and we were discussing what we were going to do that day. All of a sudden, we heard away fire and rescue party. The officer of the deck had seen a fire over on Ford island. Didn't realize we were under attack because we were outboard of the Tennessee. So I had to make a B-line to my division to get my hat on. And when I opened up my locker to get my hat, one of the first class boat mates kicked me in the seat of the pants, he says get to your battle station on the double. This is the real thing.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, so by that time, they knew that there were Japanese planes attacking.

HEDLEY: Yep. So I grabbed my hat, ran out on top-side, planes were diving all over the place. And the pilot, our pilot, Lt. White, was underneath the gun tub, which is lifted up off the deck, and I dove under there with him. And he's shooting at planes with his 45


HEDLEY: And I'm wondering what kind of -- but I don't want to ask any questions. I'm a seaman, first class. He's a Lt. Commander. And he says, son, where's your battle station? And I pointed to turret three. Get there as fast as you can. Well, we're not going to fire the 16-inch guns in pearl. But nevertheless that was my battle station, so as I was going up the later, here come down a torpedo plane down the port side of the ship, and I could see the pilot, the copilot, and the men laughing like everything. We could hear the machine gun bullets hitting the turret, and we felt the thud of a torpedo.


HEDLEY: So he says, Stu, let's see what's going on. So we took the sight cap off our periscope, and bam! There went the Arizona! And I asked a mate, and about 32 bodies went flying through the air

CAVANAUGH: Now, Mr. Hedley, how long did this attack last?

HEDLEY: It started at five minutes to 8:00. There were three. There was supposed to be three attacks. There were only two. The first 1 was over by about 9:ten. The second 1 came in at about 9:15. By 10:20, they had retreated and we had all the debris before us.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I read that there are about 100 crew members killed on the USS West Virginia. Were you injured in that attack at all?

HEDLEY: Never got a scratch.

CAVANAUGH: That's amazing.

HEDLEY: Went through World War II and the Korean war, never earned a purple heart. Which I'm grateful for.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, you're a lucky guy. Now, after the attacks on pearl harbor, and there's the debris, and there's people wounded and dead on your ship and their own ships that are sinking, did it occur to you that this was an historic event? That this would bring the U.S. into World War II?

HEDLEY: Oh, yeah. We were already -- we knew we were at World War II. We were preparing for this. Only it was not in pearl harbor. It was going to be meet the Japanese fleet at sea. And ADMIRiama moto knew that, and he feared our battleships. Because when they started there'd move down to the south China sea, that's when they feared we would interfere. So they decided that we'll destroy that fleet before it ever gets a chance. And so in July of 1941, Fuchida was given orders to prepare pilots for an attack -- but they weren't to know what they were doing.

CAVANAUGH: Right, yeah.

HEDLEY: Genda and himself were the only two who knew what they were planning.

CAVANAUGH: Iris, let me bring you into the conversation. What effect -- bring us back home, if you would. What effect did the attack on pearl harbor have here in San Diego?

BERGSTROM: As I was think think as he was talking, my own experiences as a small child kind of pale in comparison. But actually, San Diego, although not preparing at that moment, had been ready to take part in this effort practically from the early 19 hundreds when Theodore Roosevelt brought the great white fleet. In fact, we received a visit from Franklin Roosevelt, which was interesting you mentioned him, as the under secretary of the Navy at the 1915 exposition. And then later, he was very much interested in San Diego as a port for the Navy. And because we never became a commercial port, this seemed like the logical choice. So by the mid-1930s, when Ruben fleet had brought consolidated aircraft, we were starting to make planes for Europe after 1938, really. So by 1939, San Diego was gearing up and already had increased their output, the various companies, Ryan, solar, roar, were already in somewhat of a war time mood. But of course right after pearl harbor, the whole thing changed

CAVANAUGH: Well, I was going to say, it's different preparing for an attack you think is going to come and actually being in one. I would imagine there was at least some time here in San Diego where there was shock and perhaps people very concerned.

BERGSTROM: Well, and also almost unable to understand the full impact. And in fact, many people really didn't know what pearl harbor even was, not less where it was or why it was important. And there had been some focusing on the European theatre but never -- I think it was a total surprise to almost everyone to -- especially for young people or families even though, say, you're preparing is a lot different than actually -- and I think there was a lot of fear that didn't materialize. Obviously they thought the Japanese were going to come and continue to shell the coastline. We all lived on the coast.


BERGSTROM: So watched for submarines, watch forward aircraft, and there's a lot of reasons why the Japanese did not follow through. But it didn't lessen the fear of people here. And the mobilization and all of the things that we did immediately, really, to protect San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: Mr. Hedley, there have been movies ahead, and a lot of accounts of the actual attack on pearl harbor. I guess some of them are more true than others. But I'm wondering what it was like just following the attack. What was the situation in pearl harbor right after the attack in the hours after the attack?

HEDLEY: When cross Lynn and I left the West Virginia, we jumped in the harbor and swam ashore through fire twice as high as this building. And we were picked up by a ambulance and taken right to a dispensary to see if we had any burns or lacerations, any kind of wounds whatsoever. And if we didn't, they put us to work immediately on bodies that did. But it was while we were there in that dispensary that the second wave was coming in. And while we were working with the fellas that were on the beds, I looked up and I saw two planes approaching Ford island over pearl harbor, and I yelled duck! And we went under the beds, windows shattered all over the place, and one of the planes lifted up and dropped a bomb right in the center of the patio.

CAVANAUGH: This was an entire sequence. This is how this is unfolding and how you're describing it to us. It's a sequence of event after event after event all day long.


CAVANAUGH: That lives in your memory. And I just want to point out that the San Diego chapter of the pearl harbors association is still with us, but we hear that the national pearl harbors association is shutting its doors at the end of December. What can you tell us about that? Why did they make that decision?

HEDLEY: In August of this year, the new president got the whole body together in Orange County, and they said due to the fact that so many of the chapters are folding up and we are having a harder and harder time to find officers, let's turn in our charter. And it was unanimously agreed to. I found out about it in October by the national treasurer, Gary porter.

CAVANAUGH: Iris Bergstrom, when you hear about something like this, with the national pearl harbor association basically folding up shop because there are not enough members anymore, not enough people to take on the responsibilities of leadership. What is it that you think we lose?

BERGSTROM: Well, we lose the personal commentaries just like we have been hearing. And that's why historians have an obligation to interview people like Mr. Hedley who's here, and other people who are still living. And it's one of those things. You have to keep up with the people who are still alive. So you get this personal glimpse. There's no other way, and to convey this information, in fact, while he was talking, I thought, how am I going to convey this students? And the way is by having tape recordings, videotapes, and their personal experiences. Because you can't -- you can read it in a book, and I can tell them, but they look at me and say, well, it wouldn't have been that bad. But when you hear him, you know it was. And that's how they learn, and that's I think how they would remember it for a much longer time.

CAVANAUGH: Mr. Hedley, you are active right now, giving talks, presentations. How concerned are you about what the future generations remember about pearl harbor?

HEDLEY: You started off and said our motto was remember pearl harbor. But there's an addition to that. Keep America alert. America's asleep. Our young people don't have the slightest idea what happened down at pearl harbor. I am very grateful for invitations to speak. I spoke to 184 students about rob rufado, myself, at helix high school a couple weeks ago. You should see the letters that I received from every single student. And bob too for sharing with them something they didn't know anything about. And not only schools but organizations. I'm appalled when I find out that there's adults that don't even know.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I know that you are, by being here, by speaking about this, by being a member of the San Diego chapter of the pearl harbor survivors association, you're doing absolutely everything you can.

HEDLEY: Oh, absolutely.

CAVANAUGH: I want to -- I really want to thank you for coming in here today and sharing this with us. Sharing it with our whole audience who will be able to hear and have a personal memory now of someone who went through this day 70 years ago. And lived to tell about it. I want to thank my guests very much, Stewart Hedley, and Iris Bergstrom professor of history at the university of San Diego. Thank you both.

HEDLEY: Thank you for inviting us.

BERGSTROM: Yes, thank you very much Maureen. Thanks.