Dick Higgins, Pearl Harbor attack survivor, dies at 102

Richard C. “Dick” Higgins, a 102-year-old survivor of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, died Tuesday at his home in Bend, Oregon.

“My grandfather was a very kind and humble man,” Angela Norton said. His granddaughter said he would always tell jokes or make funny comments around the house to make his family smile.

“What made him so unique and lovable is that he just wanted to tell his story to anyone and everyone who would listen,” Norton said.

Whether it was a trip to local high schools or a shopping trip to Trader Joe’s, Higgins never missed an opportunity to share his story of survival, Norton said.

“He would just like to sit and chat with random people just to tell them his story,” Norton told CNN. Higgins often called his memoirs “living history.”

Higgins joined the Navy in 1939 and served as a radio operator at Pearl Harbor, a Hawaiian naval base on the island of Oahu, where he was assigned to a seaplane patrol squadron.

It was 7:55 a.m. on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese began dropping several bombs and torpedoes on the base.

Higgins remembers lying on his bunk that morning in a screened-in porch, similar to an enclosed porch — which he thought would help protect the soldiers from the island’s relentless mosquitoes.

And suddenly the sounds of explosions rang out throughout the base, Higgins said 2008 Interview with the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas.

“They were very close, so I jumped out of my bunk and ran to the edge of the porch,” he said in the oral report. “And just as I got there, a plane flew right over the barracks.”

Higgins estimated the plane was flying about 100 feet above the ground. The Japanese plane had red circle emblems painted on its wings, which Higgins described as “big red meatballs.”

“There was no doubt about what was going on in my head,” he said.

According to a National WWII Museum, the attack lasted one hour and 15 minutes and killed nearly 2,500 U.S. soldiers and citizens and more than 1,000 people Factual report.

“Of course, when it was all over, we began cleaning up and mounting ammunition so we would be ready for anything else,” Higgins said in the report.

During World War II, Higgins continued to work as a radio operator, serving in the Dutch East Indies and the Aleutian Islands.

Despite his important role in the aftermath of the attack, Higgins did not seek recognition for his contributions. Instead, his primary focus in sharing his testimony was to ensure the world knew the bigger picture.

“My grandpa always said, ‘I’m not the hero,'” Norton told CNN. “The heroes were the ones who didn’t come back.”

Accordingly, there are 22 known survivors who are still alive today Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivorsan organization dedicated to the family members and citizens of military personnel affected by the attack.

According to Kathleen Farley, a director of the organization, there is a possibility that there are more living survivors who have not joined the association.

Higgins was born on July 24, 1921, on a farm near Mangum, Okla.

After serving in the Navy for 20 years, he retired and worked as an aeronautical engineer for Northrop Corporation.

He got his pilot’s license and spent his free time in the clouds or traveling the country with his wife, Winnie Ruth. The two were married for 60 years before she died of Alzheimer’s in 2004 at the age of 82.

“As he got older and his body deteriorated, he kept saying, ‘I’m ready to go home to be with Jesus and Winnie Ruth,'” Norton said.

According to his family, Higgins died at home of natural causes. His granddaughter said he lived a full life and was proud of everything he overcame in his 100 years of life.

Norton remembers her childhood when her grandfather would support her at sports games and spend the night at his house. Higgins shared his account not only of the attack on Pearl Harbor, but also of other major historical events such as the Great Depression and the Oklahoma Dust Bowl – which he attributed to his exceptionally long life.

“He always said, ‘That good old Oklahoma dust made me fertile,'” Norton said.

Higgins’ legacy will be carried on by his two children, two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

“My focus is on telling my children and everyone else about his story,” Norton told CNN. “So that it’s always there and we don’t forget it.”

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