Capitola widow discovers late husband was a war hero

CAPITOLA — It took nearly 70 years for Gertrude McHale to discover that her late husband, Clayne Heywood, had saved 45 men from a sinking ship in World War II.

“I sat there with tears rolling down my face,” McHale said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

The U.S. Navy awarded Heywood, Boatswain’s Mate First Class, a Bronze Star Medal in 1944 for his heroics, but he never told his wife why.

McHale, who lives in Capitola, said her husband never talked about his war experiences, and gave the impression that the medal was not significant.

McHale applied for a military pension this year after enduring two hip surgeries. She was denied a pension, since Heywood died in 1960 from a heart condition he had had since childhood and therefore unrelated to his military service, McHale said.

However, the application process led her to her husband’s military records, where she learned for the first time about Heywood’s heroics aboard the USS Lanning, a rescue boat, in submarine-infested waters north of Bermuda in May 1944.

The sinking USS Fechteler had been torpedoed, leaving its men afloat in the water.

Realizing the imminent threat of another torpedo or explosion aboard the ship and without regard to his safety, Heywood jumped from his rescue boat and swam to save 45 men who would otherwise have perished, according a Navy report.



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