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Tuskegee Airman who grew up in Kendall visits hometown

Staff Reports Posted 20 June 2015 at 12:00 am

Photo courtesy of Helen Unterborn

KENDALL – Wallace Higgins, a former Kendall resident, shared his experiences as a Tuskegee Airman during a talk with the Kendall Lions Club earlier this month.

Higgins grew up in Kendall and talked about his early years during the presentation to the Lions Club.

Higgins told about encountering racial segregation and discrimination for the first time after entering the service and training in Pre-Flight at the Tuskegee Institute. He also discussed his post-war education at NYS College of Ceramics at Alfred University. He went on to become an Associate Professor at Alfred, retiring in 1985.

Higgins, 89, has been a member of Alfred Lions Club for 50 years and spent decades in community service.

He is in the official registry as a Documented Original Tuskegee Airman. For his work with the Civil Air Patrol prior to his enlistment he was a recent recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal.

This May, NYS Senator Cathy Young and the State Legislature inducted Higgins into the Veterans Hall of Fame in Albany.

Photo courtesy of State Sen. Cathy Young’s office

“Wally Higgins’ patriotic service and sacrifice for our country, and truly his entire life’s story is remarkable example of the selflessness demonstrated by so many in his generation,” Young said when Higgins was recognized in Albany. “They gave so much at a time when battles raged all around the globe and our nation needed heroes. As an original Tuskegee Airman who served in the Pacific theater, Wally’s aviation knowledge and skills were vital to the movement of troops and materials.”

Born on November 11, 1925 on a small farm in Kendall, Wally is the son of Alice and Daniel Higgins.

“Aside from his service, Wally is a loving father and dedicated family man, who deserves our deepest respect and praise. It was an honor to be able to recognize him and have his story memorialized in the state’s history,” Young said.

As soon as he turned 18 years old, Higgins enlisted in the US Army Air Corps. Having already been attending Civil Air Patrol classes in Rochester during his senior year of high school, he already had interest 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, Wally 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.

Photo by Helen Unterborn – Retired Major Ryan D’Andrea, Margaret Buell and Wally Higgins look over pictures of the Higgins family homestead in Kendall. D’Andrea now lives in the Higgins family homestead on Roosevelt Highway in Kendall.

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

On March 17, 1947 Wally was Honorably Discharged as a Staff Sergeant with Squadron F, 3505th Army Air Force. For his service, Mr. Higgins earned the WW-II Victory Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, American Campaign Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, and New York State Medal for Merit. He was also recently presented with a Congressional Gold Medal due to his Civil Air Patrol involvement during the war.

Upon returning from the war, Wally was accepted to the College of Ceramics at Alfred University, and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in ceramic design in 1952. While a student there, he met and married Norma Miller almost 64 years ago and never left Alfred. They raised four children, still reside in Allegany County, and nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.