Cmdr. Willis E. (Bill) Hardy, U.S. Navy, Retired, of San Juan Capistrano, passed away peacefully at age 97 in the loving company of his family on Sept. 15. He is survived by his wife of 72 years Marilyn Burke Hardy, daughters Charlee Hardy (Ed Riggs) and Sandra Hardy Reigel (Don), five grandchildren, brother John Hardy (Sue), sister Betty Jacobs (Johnnie), nephews and nieces. His daughter Annette Hardy Hutchins and several brothers and sisters predeceased him.
Cmdr. Hardy was a long-time resident of San Juan Capistrano and a native Californian. He was born in Corning, California in 1920 to Willis and Lulu Hardy, the oldest of nine children. He graduated from San Diego Academy, and was working his way through Southern California Junior College by milking cows when the call of adventure enticed him to join the U.S. Navy in 1939.
He flew Corsair aircraft in early war missions and supported the United States Marine Corps in the 1945 invasion of Iwo Jima through preemptive aerial bombing destruction of gun caves on Mount Suribachi. As a lieutenant junior grade, Cmdr. Hardy earned the distinction of Ace in a Day by shooting down five enemy aircraft that were on an aerial suicide mission in the Pacific.
In 1959, Cmdr. Hardy retired from the United States Navy as a commander, was an avid antique restorer, and had a successful career in aerospace for North American Rockwell and the Collins Radio Division. He was a proud member and advocate of the American Fighter Aces Association, where he served in a variety of roles including president. He has been honored for his service by a number of organizations and institutions, including the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. His military service decorations included the Navy Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with four gold stars, and the Presidential Unit Citation.
A Celebration of Life service will be held on Sunday, Oct. 29 at 1 p.m. at McCormick & Son Mortuaries in Laguna Hills. A military funeral service will be held at Miramar National Cemetery in San Diego on Monday, Oct. 30 at 2 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in honor of Cmdr. Bill Hardy can be made to the American Fighter Aces Association, c/o Matt Hayes, Museum of Flight, 9404 E. Marginal Way South, Seattle, WA, 98108-4094 or online at www.museumofflight.org/giving/donate.