Bundled in his old military coat and scarf, 98-year-old Dick Higgins sat in his wheelchair Saturday morning along the frozen shore of Bend’s Mirror Pond to be a part of a Pearl Harbor anniversary ceremony.
The ceremony offered Higgins a way to recognize the 2,400 people killed in the infamous attack 78 years ago.
For everyone else at the gathering Saturday, it was a chance to honor Higgins, the last living Pearl Harbor survivor in Bend.
“For our family’s sake, we continue to feel very honored and privileged that he is still here,” Higgins’ granddaughter Angela Norton said. “There is so much pride in who he is and what he did.”
Higgins is a precious piece of a dwindling generation.
At the national ceremony Saturday at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, only about a dozen survivors from the Dec. 7, 1941, attack were in attendance. Three years ago, about 200 survivors made the trip.
Bend once had six Pearl Harbor survivors. Three were alive for the 75th anniversary in 2016, and now Higgins is the last one.
“Too see this generation slowly pass is just heartbreaking,” Norton said. “They are such a unique and special generation.”
Higgins never expected to be the center of attention at Pearl Harbor ceremonies. He never chose to be a piece of U.S. history.
In the days before the Pearl Harbor attack, Higgins was a 20-year-old Navy radio operator who was happy to be in Hawaii, away from his upbringing in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression.
He awoke that Sunday to the sound of Japanese planes flying over his barracks on Ford Island.
During the attack, he was ordered to clear the wreckage from the Navy airfield to help prepare planes for flight. He worked nonstop, covered in ash and oil, to salvage the planes.
Every year at this time, he can’t help but think about the experience.
“It brings some of the memories back to the surface,” Higgins said Saturday.
Higgins has trouble getting around without a wheelchair or a cane and relies on a hearing aid, but his mind is still sharp.
He showed off his quick wit and vibrant smile Saturday as he posed for pictures and chatted with community members. About two dozen people attended the event.
He was joined by four generations of his family, including his four great-grandchildren.
His granddaughter, Norton, brought her 5-year-old son, Josiah, and her 2-month-old daughter, Nolle. His grandson, Michael Bolling, was there with his two sons, Atticus, 6, and Oliver, 4.
It has become a tradition for Higgins and his family to visit Pearl Harbor on the anniversary every five years. The family attended the national ceremony in Honolulu for the 60th, 65th, 70th and 75th anniversaries.
The family plans to bring Higgins back to Pearl Harbor on the 80th anniversary when he will be 100.
“We are shooting for the 80th anniversary,” Norton said. “That will be really special.”
Higgins could have used warmer Hawaii weather Saturday as he sat near the Bend Heroes Memorial in Brooks Park. A portable heater kept him comfortable during the ceremony.
And so did the warm wishes from those in attendance.
Higgins was presented with an American flag, with his name stitched along the side. The flag was placed with others along the Veterans Memorial Bridge, where the Bend Christmas Parade passed by Saturday afternoon.
After the ceremony, people lined up to visit and take pictures with Higgins.
His granddaughter said he is getting used to the attention. On Veterans Day, Higgins and his family went out to lunch at Deschutes Brewing and people were fighting over who would pay for his meal, Norton said.
“He’s a social butterfly,” she said. “He’s happiest when he is around people.”