Tuskegee Airman from Kendall honored by Allegany County Office for the Aging

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 7 January 2022 at 1:19 pm

After service in WWII, ‘Wally’ Higgins worked as professor at Alfred University and was advocate for senior citizens in his retirement

File photo: Wallace “Wally” Higgins addresses the Kendall Lions Club in June 2015. He was a member of the Alfred Lions Club for more than 50 years.

ALFRED – A Kendall native who served during World War II with the Tuskegee Airman has been honored by the Allegany County Office for the Aging for his advocacy on behalf of senior citizens in his retirement.

Wallace “Wally” Higgins was born in Kendall. He joined the U.S. Army on Dec. 10, 1943, before finishing high school. He served until March of 1947. He was assigned to the Army Air Corps and trained with the famed Tuskegee Airmen.

During a presentation to the Kendall Lions Club in June 2015, Higgins talked about encountering racial segregation and discrimination for the first time after entering the service and training in Pre-Flight at the Tuskegee Institute.

As soon as he turned 18, Higgins enlisted in the Air Corps. Having already attended Civil Air Patrol classes in Rochester during his senior year of high school, Higgins was interested in pursuing aviation.

After initially reporting to Fort Dix, New Jersey, Higgins was sent to Biloxi, Mississippi for basic training and aptitude testing. As a result of his skin color and proficiencies, Higgins was selected to be part of the Tuskegee Airmen experiment in Alabama, where he trained in Pre-Flight and Primary Flight training, including solo runs in the P-17 Stearman.

Following 11 months at Tuskegee, a downturn in the war in Europe resulted in less pilot training and Higgins was transferred to the 1909th Engineers Aviation Battalion. Severe illness also prevented him from completing his training and with the conclusion of the war in Europe, he was transferred to the Pacific Theatre.

A sergeant in charge of an all-black, 30-man platoon, Higgins served in Saipan and Okinawa building roads, airfields and ammunition storage buildings.

After being honorably discharged on March 17, 1947, attended the NYS College of Ceramics at Alfred University. While a student there, he met and married Norma Miller. They were married 64 years and raised four children. She passed away on Dec. 24, 2015.

The husband and wife stayed in Alfred. Mr. Higgins went on to become an Associate Professor at the university, retiring in 1985.

Higgins passed away on Aug. 22, 2018 at age 92.

Higgins was active with the Alfred community. He served in the Alfred Lions Club for more than 50 years.

In 2003 he helped found the Allegany Senior Foundation to raise funding for the Office for Aging. That group has raised more $500,000 in nearly 20 years to support Meals on Wheels and other programming for seniors.

Higgins helped develop the Foundation’s mission: “Our mission is to identify gaps in services, find programs to fill those gaps and fund those programs. We want to be sure that Allegany County remains a wonderful place to grow up and grow old.”

The OFA on Wednesday dedicated “Wally’s Wall” in the entrance of the Allegany County Office for the Aging at Crossroads in Belmont. That wall includes many memorial bricks. Allegany County officials on Wednesday said Higgins was instrumental in the site and was a strong advocate for local senior citizens.