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News / Nation & World

1 of the few remaining survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor has died at 102

By Associated Press
Published: March 20, 2024, 7:27pm

HONOLULU — Richard C. “Dick” Higgins, one of the few remaining survivors of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, has died, a family member said Wednesday. He was 102.

Higgins died at home in Bend, Oregon, on Tuesday of natural causes, granddaughter Angela Norton said.

Higgins 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.

He recounted in a 2008 oral history interview 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,” he said according to the interview by the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas.

He estimated the plane was about 50 feet (15 meters) to his side and 100 feet (30 meters) 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.

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.

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“It was never about him,” Norton said. “The heroes were those that didn’t come home.”

Higgins was born on a farm near Mangum, Oklahoma, on July 24, 1921. He joined the Navy in 1939 and retired 20 years later. He then became an aeronautics engineer for Northrop Corporation, which later became Northrop Grumman, and other defense contractors. He worked on the B-2 Stealth Bomber, Norton said.

His wife, Winnie Ruth, died in 2004 at the age of 82. They had been married for 60 years.

Not long after he went into hospice last Thursday, he told his granddaughter, “I’m ready to go see Winnie Ruth.”

“I said, ‘It’s OK, go home. Be with Jesus and be with Winnie Ruth,’” Norton said. “‘It’s okay to do that. Leave us. You’ve had it’s such a good and full life.’”

There are now 22 survivors of the attack still living, said Kathleen Farley, the California state chair of the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors. Farley said other survivors may still be living but not all joined the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association when it was formed in 1958 and so may not be known to her.

About 2,400 servicemen were killed in the bombing, which launched the U.S. into World War II. The USS Arizona battleship alone lost 1,177 sailors and Marines, nearly half the death toll.

About 87,000 military personnel were on Oahu on Dec. 7, according to a rough estimate compiled by military historian J. Michael Wenger.

Higgins is survived by two children, two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. The family plans to hold a memorial service at a church in Bend on Thursday followed by a ceremony with full military honors. Afterward his body will be flown to California, where he will be buried next to his wife.