Richard C. Higgins, one of the last Pearl Harbor survivors, dies

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One of the last survivors of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Richard C. Higgins, died Tuesday at the age of 102.

He died of natural causes, according to his granddaughter, Angela Norton. She said she died at her home, where she resided.

Mr. Higgins was stationed at the Pearl Harbor naval base as a radio operator on December 7, 1941, when Japan launched a surprise bombing raid on the base. The air raid killed more than 2,400 Americans and led the United States to declare war on Japan.

Mr. Higgins, who later in his life often spoke about his experience with schoolchildren and on social media, described in an Instagram video from 2020 moving the planes away from each other as bombs fell around them.

“I was moving the planes away from the ones that were on fire, because when the tanks exploded, they spewed burning gas onto the others,” he said.

in a oral history interview In 2008, he recalled that the explosions woke him up and he ran to the lanai, or porch, of his room. “I jumped out of my bunk and ran to the edge of the lanai and just as I got there, a plane went over the barracks,” he said.

The plane had “big red meatballs,” he said, referring to Japan’s rising sun insignia, “so there was no doubt what was going on in my mind.”

Richard Clyde Higgins was born on July 24, 1921 on a farm near Mangum, Oklahoma, and lived during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. On Instagram, described how the streetlights would come on at noon when dust and sand rolled in, covering the city in darkness, and his father would borrow money to feed the farm animals. “They were what you could call slim pickings,” she said.

Mr. Higgins joined the Navy in 1939, where he trained to become an aviation mechanic. Stationed at Pearl Harbor, he was sent on a patrol mission in mid-October 1941 and returned just two days before the Japanese attack, he said in the 2008 interview. On the morning of the attack, he said, he saw that the seaplane that had taken him returned to base it had disappeared, replaced by a crater seven feet deep and 20 feet wide.

After the attack, he said on Instagram, he did not return to his barracks for three days. Instead, he slept on a cot in the aircraft hangar and worked on “trying to get the planes back into service.”

After retiring in 1959, he worked as an aeronautical engineer. He married Winnie Ruth in 1944 while stationed in Florida. He died in 2004 at the age of 82.

Mr. Higgins is survived by a son and daughter, two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, Norton said.

The number of survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor has been steadily declining, to such an extent that in 2011, the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association disbanded, citing low membership. After Mr. Higgins’ death, there were an estimated 22 survivors, according to Kathleen Farley, California state president of the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors organization.

Ms Norton said that in his later years, her grandfather’s focus was on sharing his story, especially with young people.

“He never thought he was a hero; the heroes were those who did not return home,” he said. “But he wanted to make sure that his stories continued to be told and that we remembered what an incredible country we lived in and the sacrifices they made for us to have our freedoms.”

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