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USS Midway Museum

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He quit high school in the late 1930s and tried to join the U.S. Navy, but at only 4 feet 11 inches tall, he was told he was “too small” to enter naval service. Quietly and humbly, he would not be deterred. A few years and a few inches taller, he tried again. This time, he was in.

Over the course of the next 80 years, Stu Hedley never lost his humility. Although he remained small in stature, he became a giant of a man.

Just shy of his 100th birthday, Stu left us. His impact on all those whose lives he touched, however, will never be forgotten.

“We are so grateful for the time we had with him,” said Kathy Hansen, the retired command master chief of the USS Pearl Harbor who was a friend of Stu and his family for more than 20 years. “He always told me that 20 to 30 hugs a day will make you live a happy and long life.”

On Oct. 29, 1940, his 19th birthday, Stu arrived at his first assignment, the battleship USS West Virginia. A little more than a year later, on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the USS West Virginia was in port at Pearl Harbor. Stu and several of his shipmates were in Gun Turret 3 when the ship was attacked by Japanese bombers. 

An explosion ripped through the gun turret, killing a number of his shipmates. Narrowly escaping death, Stu had to swim around and under flaming oil while he dodged shattering glass and flying shrapnel before being rescued. 

“That was the hottest breath of air I ever breathed in my life,” remembered Stu. “I grew up in a hurry that day.”

Stu was reassigned to the cruiser USS San Francisco and over the next 16 months, he would be involved in 13 major combat engagements.

“We often remember Stu for what he did on Dec. 7, but his legacy really began on Dec. 8,” said Mac McLaughlin, president and CEO of the USS Midway Museum. “The freedoms of America were under attack and he would fight back to protect them. Stu manned up”

“Freedom is not free,” Stu often said. “Freedom is gained at a price.”

After retiring from the Navy in 1960, Stu worked for the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District until 1981. He and his wife Wanda raised five children.

Stu was very active with veterans and community organizations, and served several terms as president of the local Carnation Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. Over the years, he made hundreds of appearances before school and church groups, military commands and civic clubs. By his count, Stu estimated he spoke to more than 200,000 people ensuring they didn’t forget what happened at Pearl Harbor.

“Stu’s life helped make San Diego a better community for all of us,” said San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria. “He was truly a special human being and lived an absolutely incredible life. We can always use a few more people like Stu.”

Stu was Veteran of the Year for 2005 and received the Midway American Patriot Award in 2015.

“I will miss Stu’s hugs and his spirit,” said Mac. “But his legacy will live forever.”

Over the centuries, the phrase “last man standing” has taken on myriad associations – the sole survivor of a battle, the winner of a competition and more recently, the title of a network television sitcom starring comedian and actor Tim Allen.

Cmdr. Keith Morris speaks at his change of command ceremony.

For Navy Cmdr. Keith Morris, however, last man standing takes on a personal as well as historic significance. One that only he can claim.

The Georgia native owns the distinction of being the last person to serve on the USS Midway who is still currently on active duty.

“It makes me feel old,” Keith said with a laugh. “Honestly, I’m honored to carry that distinction.”

Keith recently took command of the Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facilities (FACSFAC) Jacksonville, the capstone of an illustrious naval career that began as an air traffic controller on USS Midway in 1988.

“This is another amazing Navy experience,” said Keith of his new position of leadership. “The opportunity to lead and develop young minds is an obligation I do not take lightly.”

Thinking back three decades, however, Keith never imagined he’d rise from the humble beginnings as a Navy airman to become a commanding officer.

“My intention 34 years ago was to stay for one enlistment then get out and go work for the FAA as an air traffic controller” said Keith. “It is funny how men plan and God laughs.”

Reporting aboard Midway just before the Gulf War, following completion of air traffic control school, his experiences on the Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier were beyond his wildest expectations.

“My time on board the USS Midway was magical,” said Keith, who also met his wife while he was stationed in Japan. “I was a recent graduate from high school and on my own for the first time. From talking to my first aircraft as an air traffic controller to riding an elephant while on liberty in Thailand, every experience was amazing. I was doing things I never imagined I would.”

During his more than 30 years in the Navy, Keith has seen it all. Nearly 15 separate tours of duty have taken him all over the country and around the world from Pensacola to Point Mugu and from Afghanistan to Africa.

He may now be the oldest former USS Midway crewmember still serving in the Navy, but memories of his first tour on Midway keep him young at heart.

Keith Morris was an air traffic controller on the USS Midway in the late 1980s.

“I am proud to have been a part of something so great,” said Keith. “When I was stationed in San Diego, I would take every opportunity to visit the Midway Museum. Walking the passageways and sitting in Air Operations would always pull me back to my youth.”

With the pandemic putting the brakes on normal museum operations last year, two Midway volunteers, Bonnie Brown and Al Pierce, were honored with the esteemed David Flohr Award as volunteers of the year in 2021. 

“This distinction is reserved for the volunteers who truly go above and beyond to serve the museum mission,” said Laurie Switzer, Midway’s director of volunteer programs.

“Volunteers who truly go above and beyond to serve the museum mission.”

Bonnie Brown
Al Pierce

Bonnie Brown brings 50 years expertise in library science, and has elevated Midway’s naval aviation library to unexpected heights. The library maintains an archive of more than 8,000 books and conducts extensive research on a wide variety of Midway and other military subjects. 

“She brings a true team spirit to the library,” said Laurie. “Bonnie recognizes that each of the library team members play a significant role in the vast and expansive task list within the library.”

 “I was thrilled to represent the 65 library volunteers who work so hard to preserve the history of the USS Midway and those who served aboard,” said Bonnie, who has more 12,000 volunteer hours over the last 14 years. “It is an incredible honor to be picked as volunteer of the year as there are so many worthy volunteers who deserve the honor.”

Al Pierce has contributed nearly 22,000 hours of his time and talent assisting museum guests for more than a decade. Serving on both the safety and docent teams, he has routinely taken on leadership positions.

“This is greatly appreciated recognition,” said Al, who has been a volunteer since 2009. “I really enjoy all my time on the Midway because of all the great volunteers that I work with.”

“He is truly one of the key players in our museum operations,” said Laurie.