Pearl Harbor Survivor, 102, Didn't Want History Repeated

Richard Higgins immediately understood what was happening on Dec. 7, 1941
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 22, 2024 4:40 PM CDT
Pearl Harbor Survivor, 102, Didn't Want History Repeated
Pearl Harbor survivor Dick Higgins waves to a crowd of students and community members as he is introduced at a ceremony on Dec. 7, 2023, at Bend High School in Bend, Oregon, to honor him as well as those who died in the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.   (Joe Kline/The Bulletin via AP)

Richard Higgins, one of the few remaining survivors of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, has died. He was 102. Higgins died at home in Bend, Oregon, on Tuesday of natural causes, granddaughter Angela Norton said. He was a radioman assigned to a patrol squadron of seaplanes based at the Hawaii naval base when Japanese planes began dropping bombs on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. In a 2008 oral history interview, per the AP, Higgins recalled how he was in his bunk inside a screened-in lanai, or porch, on the third floor of his barracks when the bombing began.

"I jumped out of my bunk and I ran over to the edge of the lanai and just as I got there, a plane went right over the barracks," Higgins said, according to the interview by the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas. He estimated the plane was 50 feet to his side and 100 feet above his barracks. He described "big red meatballs" on the plane, in reference to the red circular emblem painted on the wings and fuselages of the Japanese aircraft. "So, there was no doubt what was happening in my mind, because of the things that had been going on," he said.

Higgins was born on a farm near Mangum, Oklahoma. He joined the Navy in 1939 and retired 20 years later. He then became an aeronautics engineer for Northrop Corp. and other defense contractors. He worked on the B-2 Stealth Bomber, Norton said. His wife, Winnie Ruth, died in 2004 at 82; they had been married for 60 years. There are now 22 survivors of the attack still living, said Kathleen Farley, California chair of the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors. Farley said there could be more survivors, but not all joined the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association and so may not be known to her.

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About 2,400 service members were killed in the bombing, which launched the US into World War II. The USS Arizona battleship alone lost 1,177 sailors and Marines, nearly half of the death toll, per the AP. Norton called her grandfather a humble and kind man who would frequently visit schools to share stories about Pearl Harbor, World War II, and the Great Depression. Norton said he wanted to teach people history so they wouldn't repeat it. "It was never about him," Norton said. "The heroes were those that didn't come home."

(More obituary stories.)

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