Dick Higgins, one of the last remaining Pearl Harbor survivors, dead at age 102

 March 22, 2024

Retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Richard "Dick" Higgins, one of the few remaining survivors of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor that embroiled America in World War II, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 102, Breitbart reported.

According to his family, Higgins, who was previously diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, died of natural causes at his granddaughter's home in Bend, Oregon, just days after he entered hospice care. He had been living with his granddaughter, Angela Norton, and her family in Oregon since 2013.

Higgins "went home to be with Jesus"

Norton announced the death of her beloved grandfather in a Tuesday post to her Instagram account, and wrote, "Gramps went home to be with Jesus this morning. He was a humble, generous, funny and loving husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather and friend. This community has celebrated and honored him and we are forever grateful for the impact he has made on all of us."

"At 102 years old, we have lost a precious part of history but because of his belief in Jesus we know that this is not the end. We can’t wait to see you again. Always and forever, we love you Gramps," she added.

Breitbart noted that Higgins -- who was born in Oklahoma in 1921 and later settled in California's Orange County in the 1950s, where he lived until moving in with his granddaughter in Oregon -- was heralded for his military service in December by local officials and the local high school at a Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day event, with the Bend City Council even establishing a "Dick Higgins Day" in his honor.

A "very humble man" from the "Greatest Generation" who loved sharing history with others

The Orange County Register reported that Higgins had been the last surviving member of the county's chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. He had been a radioman assigned to a squadron of PBY seaplanes stationed at the Hawaiian naval base and reportedly sprang into action on the fatal morning of the Japanese surprise attack to help save others while bombs were still dropping and exploding all around.

According to Norton, Higgins loved sharing his historical knowledge and experiences with others, particularly local schoolchildren and was actively involved in multiple veterans groups. "He was a very humble man," she said, who fit the billing of the "Greatest Generation" label applied to those who served in WWII.

"That generation was about no glory, no honors; he was just there to help his country. He’d always say, 'Freedom isn’t free.' The more he could share about how incredible our country is and how honored he was to live here, the happier he was," Norton said. "He’d say (freedom) is impossible to get back and those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Those are the quotes he’d always say."

As for his last days before passing, the granddaughter shared, "I just never left his side. I wanted to be with him on his final breath. At 1:42 a.m., he went home to be with his savior and his wife, Winnie Ruth."

Of his Alzheimer's diagnosis and moving in with her and her family, Norton revealed, "We thought it was going to be a short time, but he kept living. For a good part of it, he was independent. It was so incredibly worth it to have this treasure and have him there for the kids. We are grateful for the full and celebrated life he had."

Navy veteran, defense contractor, and beloved family man

The Associated Press reported that following Higgins' death, it is believed that there are now less than two dozen Pearl Harbor survivors who are still alive, though there may be a few more who are unknown because they never joined the association that Higgins was part of.

He served a full 20-year career in the U.S. Navy, from 1939-1959, and followed that up with a career as an aeronautics engineer for various defense contractors, including the Northrup Corporation, now known as Northrup Grumann, where he helped develop the B-2 stealth bomber.

Higgins married his wife of 60 years, Winnie Ruth, in 1944, though she passed away 20 years ago in 2004 at the age of 82. He is survived by two children, two grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

According to the Register, he will receive full military honors at a memorial service in Oregon, then will be escorted by the Patriot Riders organization to the airport in Portland, where he will finally be transported to California to be laid to rest beside his late wife.

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