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'It's a miracle and a blessing': Nearly 79 years after his death at Pearl Harbor, sailor's remains back with his brothers, family
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'It's a miracle and a blessing': Nearly 79 years after his death at Pearl Harbor, sailor's remains back with his brothers, family

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BAXTER SPRINGS, Kan. — From the time he first put on the gloves at the youth boxing club, Hadley Heavin looked like a born fighter.

“He’d fight anybody. Didn’t matter if they were older or bigger,” recalled his brother, Charles Heavin.

“He whipped some pretty good boys,” he added, chuckling.

But for all the blows Hadley Heavin shook off in the ring, it was his family that would have to absorb the hardest one.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Heavin — by then a sailor in the Navy — was on board the USS West Virginia when it was sunk in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The impact of that news, Charles Heavin said, can be described in only one way: a complete gut punch.

And there would be no easing it anytime soon. Although Heavin was later declared dead, final closure would continue to elude the family.

Until this week — nearly 79 years after the fact.

Recently identified through DNA testing, Heavin’s remains were returned to his family Wednesday at Tulsa International Airport.

They were then transported to Baxter Springs, where residents lined the streets in welcome.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday.

It’s set for 10 a.m. at the First Christian Church in Baxter Springs, with burial afterward, with full military honors, at Baxter Springs Cemetery.

Heavin, 23, a fireman first class, had been in the Navy for three years at the time of his death.

When the Pearl Harbor attack commenced, he was on duty aboard his battleship.

The vessel sustained multiple torpedo hits before sinking to the harbor floor, killing 106 of its crew.

Heavin’s remains were among many that could not be identified and were interred as unknown at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

Using advancing DNA technology, successful efforts have been made in recent years to identify many of the unidentified from Pearl Harbor.

Providing the DNA that helped make Hadley Heavin’s ID possible were Charles Heavin, 92, and Rex Heavin, 89 — his lone surviving siblings.

“We had just about given up,” Charles Heavin said, adding that they were asked to submit their samples about five years ago.

When he got the call, “Man, I was happy as could be.”

“It’s a miracle and a blessing,” he added.

“There was never a family gathering that his name was not mentioned.”

Charles Heavin, of the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kansas, wasn’t able to make the trip to Tulsa but will be in Baxter Springs for the service.

False hope

Hadley Irvin Heavin, born May 26, 1918, was the second of his parents’ seven children and one of five brothers.

He attended Baxter Springs schools through the eighth grade, when, due to the hardships of the Depression, he left to work and help take care of his siblings.

After several years of different jobs, Hadley enlisted in the Navy in 1938.

Charles Heavin, who was 13 at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, remembers many of the details.

Notified initially that Hadley was missing, it would be almost a year, he said, before a second telegram confirmed that he’d been declared dead.

Days after the attack, the family had received a Christmas letter from Hadley.

For a brief few moments, “we were all jumping around,” thinking it meant he’d survived, Charles Heavin said.

But then they saw the letter’s date of Dec. 6. It had been mailed the day before the attack.

So their short-lived elation turned quickly to sorrow.

In that last letter, Hadley apologized that he wouldn’t be able to make it home for Christmas.

He enclosed a gift for the family in the envelope.

“It was $50 in cash,” Charles said. “That was the most money we’d ever seen back in them days.”

The thing about the letter that has endured, though, is what it meant — that some of Hadley’s last thoughts in this world were of his family.

Charles Heavin’s favorite memories of his brother, he said, are seeing him box at the youth club in Baxter Springs.

“He was a good fighter. Carried himself like a good fighter,” he said.

Hadley Heavin kept boxing after joining the Navy, and once, while in basic training, won a Golden Gloves amateur title.

“He got it by knocking out the champion 1 minute and 35 seconds into the first round,” his brother said.

The family still has that Golden Gloves award, Charles Heavin said. It’s in the safe keeping of a nephew, who was named Hadley in his honor.

After keeping his brother’s memory alive all these years, Charles Heavin is glad to have something more tangible to go with it.

“Finally, we have this opportunity to lay him to rest where he belongs, in his hometown and with his family,” he said.


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Tim Stanley

918-581-8385

<&rdpEm>tim.stanley@tulsaworld.com</&rdpEm>

<&rdpEm>Twitter: @timstanleyTW</&rdpEm>

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