Dick Higgins, one of last survivors of attack at Pearl Harbor, dead at 102

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BEND, Ore. — Dick Higgins, one of the last survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, died Tuesday, his family said. He was 102.

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Higgins died of natural causes at his home in Bend, Oregon, KTVZ reported. His death was announced by his granddaughter, Angela Norton, with whom he lives.

“I just never left his side,” Norton told The Orange County Register. “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.”

He was the last survivor of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association’s Orange County Chapter 14, according to the newspaper.

Higgins’ family announced his death in an Instagram post on Wednesday.

“Gramps went home to be with Jesus this morning. He was a humble, generous, funny and loving husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather and friend,” family members wrote. “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.”

Higgins was a radioman assigned to a patrol squadron of seaplanes based at Pearl Harbor when Japanese planes began dropping bombs at the Hawaii naval base, according to The Associated Press.

“It took me about a tenth of a second to figure out what it was,” Higgins told KTVZ in a 2016 interview.

Higgins served as a crew member for the remainder of World War II, and was a Chief Petty Officer at the time of his discharge, according to the television station.

Richard Clyde Higgins was born in Mangum, Oklahoma, on July 24, 1921, according to the Register.

He joined the Navy in 1939 and retired 20 years later, according to the AP. He then became an aeronautics engineer for Northrop Corporation, which later became Northrop Grumman, and other defense contractors, the news organization reported.

According to Florida marriage records, Higgins married Winnie Ruth McDonald in Columbia County on April 25, 1944. She was born Feb. 21, 1922, in Philadelphia, Mississippi, online records show.

According to the 1950 census, the couple lived in Jacksonville, Florida, while he was still in the military. The couple moved to Orange County, California, in 1954, the Register reported.

Winnie Ruth McDonald Higgins died on June 3, 2004, at the age of 82 in Costa Mesa, California, online records show.

Higgins began living with Norton and her family after leaving Orange County in 2013, the Register reported. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease several years ago but remained lucid, Norton told the newspaper.

“We thought it was going to be a short time, but he kept living,” Norton said. “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.”

There are now 22 documented survivors of the attack still living, Kathleen Farley, the California state chair of the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors, told the AP.

A memorial service with full military honors is planned at Deschutes Memorial Gardens in Bend, the Register reported.