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By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian
By Lois Henry
Wayne Heyart was the epitome of a regular guy.
He lived his whole life in Bakersfield, worked for PG&E, played golf and raised a great family.
He was also a living piece of history whose memories could far surpass any Hollywood movie.
Heyart died Monday. He was 88.
World War II broke out when Heyart was just 17. He and his four brothers all enlisted in the Navy. Heyart was assigned to the storied USS Pensacola, a heavy cruiser.
Heyart, a radio man, first boarded the Pensacola as it steamed back into Pearl Harbor for repairs after sustaining heavy damage in the Battle of Tassafaronga.
He would serve the rest of the war aboard the Pensacola, nicknamed the "Grey Ghost" by Tokyo Rose because it seemed to be everywhere in the Pacific theater, escorting carriers and bombarding Japanese garrisons in the Marshall Islands, Kurile Islands, Wake Island and helping with the Philippine campaign.
The Pensacola and Heyart both saw a lot of action.
"My job was to copy code," Heyart recalled in a 2012 interview. "And I did it hunched as close to the ground as I could get."
Before his first battle at Tarawa, Heyart stepped on deck for a breath of air and was nearly knocked off his feet by a kamikaze headed for a nearby carrier.
"I could see the people in that plane as clear as I can see you," he said. "But they never looked our way or fired a gun at us. They were after that carrier. They got 'em, too. Dove right into 'em."
Then in late 1944 through March 1945, the Pensacola was in one of the bloodiest battles of the war, Iwo Jima.
"It's just a little strip of land," Heyart said. "But it was a deadly place, especially for the Marines."
The Pensacola was hit. A shell smashed through the deck outside the radio room and shrapnel came through the 4-inch steel walls whizzing right past Heyart. He lost a lot of friends in that battle.
"I thought we'd go in for repairs after that, but we got sent to Okinawa instead because we still had our anti-aircraft guns."
The attack on Okinawa was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific war and lasted from April until mid-June 1945.
After the war, Heyart came home to Bakersfield and started work for San Joaquin Light and Power Corp. (later bought by PG&E).
But he was called back to service in 1950 to serve another year during the Korean conflict.
He liked the service but wanted to be home with his wife, Virginia. So he left the Navy and war behind.
"He was amazing, a really rare breed," said son Greg Heyart. He took his dad to Japan a few years ago where the Okinawa naval base commander took the two on a day-long tour.
The family had hoped to get him on an honor flight to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II memorial, but his health declined rapidly last summer following a back injury.
"He would have loved it, but it wasn't critical for him because we'd gone to Japan when he was in great health," Greg Heyart said. "Looking back, I'm so thankful that he had a wonderful life and we got to enjoy him for so many years."
Heyart's services will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at Hillcrest Memorial Chapel.
He'll be buried at Hillcrest next to Virginia, the love of his life, per his final wishes.