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Dick Higgins, Bend’s much-beloved and honored Pearl Harbor survivor, passes at 102; public memorial service set

(Update: Adding that fellow Pearl Harbor survivor Marvin Emmarson passed away in Feb. at 102)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Dick Higgins, the Bend resident and Pearl Harbor survivor whose public appearances and first-person recollections of that infamous day – Dec. 7, 1941 – became ever more special with every day, week and year, passed away early Tuesday at the age of 102, his grieving yet grateful family announced.

"At 1:42 a.m., Gramps took his final breath" at home, his family at his side, granddaughter Angela Norton, with whom Higgins shared a family home and many special trips and times, informed NewsChannel 21 early Tuesday.

In an Instagram post, the family shared a message with the community:

"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."

The family announced later Tuesday that a public memorial service will take place on Thursday, March 28th at 11 a.m. at Eastmont Church, 62425 Eagle Road, followed by a procession to Deschutes Memorial Gardens, 63875 N. Highway 97, where a military funeral service with full honors is planned.

From there, plans now being finalized are for an honor flight on Saturday, March 30th from Portland International Airport to Orange County in Southern California, where Higgins will be buried beside his wife of 60 years, Winnie Ruth.

Higgins' family also asked that attendees to the memorial service wear Hawaiian attire, in celebration of his life. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Bend Band of Brothers.

Higgins, who had only entered hospice care a few days earlier, was celebrated in recent years at many local events and occasions, including happy drive-by parades at the home he shared with his granddaughter and her husband, Angela and Ryan Norton and their family.

He was also celebrated as a special, honored guest by Bend Senior High School students and staff, as well as fellow veterans, when he attended another special Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day ceremony, last Dec. 7.

City Councilor Anthony Broadman read the city’s proclamation of “Dick Higgins Day,” and many students personally thanked him for his service and asked to take their pictures with him.

“I never expected something like this,” Higgins said. “I’m very honored to be here. I just represent all those that couldn’t be here.”

Higgins was a survivor well before Pearl Harbor -- of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl that hit the nation's heartland so hard -- and well afterward, decades later, of a bout with COVID-19 that claimed so many lives.

And in his later years, as who he was became widely known in his new hometown, Higgins was welcomed warmly just about everywhere he went.

“They made him feel so loved," Angela Norton said Tuesday at home, busy making arrangements and gathering Gramps' belongings.

"I mean, not only at the events that he attended, but every time we went to church, to the grocery stores, to the library -- wherever we were at, people came up and talked to him, want to know his story, thank him for his service. It was a beautiful thing to watch.”

As that city of Bend proclamation noted, Higgins was born in Oklahoma on July 24, 1921 and joined the U.S. Navy in 1939, training as a radioman. He was assigned to VP-22 Squadron as a Catalina PBY-5A amphibious aircraft radioman when the Japanese attacked.

In 2016, before his family traveled to Hawaii and Pearl Harbor to mark the 75th anniversary, Higgins took us back to that day that will always be etched in the nation’s memory and history.

Like so many there that day, he recalled walking up to an explosion: “Jumped out of my bunk and ran over to the side – plane went right over the barracks about 100 feet up,” with the big red painted circles that were the sign of the enemy, the Japanese.

“It took my about a tenth of a second to figure out what it was,” he said of the attack that claimed the lives of 2,403 American soldiers.

Higgins helped salvage PBA-5A aircraft so that some would quickly become operational.

“We spent the rest of the day to get planes flyable,” he recalled.

 Higgins served as a crew member for the remainder of World War II, leaving service as a Chief Petty Officer with numerous decorations and awards.

After his wife of 60 years, Winnie, passed, Higgins moved to Bend to be near his daughter, Vicki Bolling, and live with Norton’s family.

Higgins also was at Bend City Hall for the proclamation ceremony, at which veterans’ activist Dick Tobiason noted there were fewer than 75 living Pearl Harbor survivors.

Central Oregon's other survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack, Marvin Emmarson of Sisters, passed away in February, also at the age of 102.

Last July, Higgins’ birthday parade traveled from High Desert Middle School to the family’ home, where 102 balloons made a large, colorful balloon arch and everyone sang Happy Birthday. The Oregon Veterans Motorcycles Association honored him with a salute.

“Gramps,” as he was known to his family, attended seven Pearl Harbor reunions in Hawaii, from 1991 to 2021, when the 100-year-old sailor was on hand for the 80th commemoration of that day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt said would “live in infamy.”

The Bend Heroes Foundation honored Higgins with an Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C., and has been honored at several Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day ceremonies at the Bend Heroes Memorial.

Higgins also paid several visits to the Erickson Aircraft College in Madras during the annual Airshows of the Cascades, talking with people of all ages about the attack and our gift of freedom, seated by the museum’s PBY-5A.

Article Topic Follows: War-Military

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Barney Lerten

Barney is the digital content director for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Barney here.


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