Wallace Higgins, Tuskegee Airman from Kendall, dies at 92
‘America has lost one of its true heroes’
ALFRED – A Kendall native who served during World War II with the Tuskegee Airman died on Aug. 22 at age 92.
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.
“America has lost one of its true heroes,” said State Sen. Cathy Young of the Southern Tier. “However, his legacy endures and his spirit lives on in our hearts.”
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.
He was a member of Alfred Lions Club for 50 years and spent decades in community service. In May 2015 he was inducted into the Veterans Hall of Fame in Albany.
“It was my honor to induct Sergeant Higgins into the Senate’s Veterans’ Hall of Fame in 2015 and an even greater privilege to have the opportunity to get to know this extraordinary man,” said State Sen. Cathy Young. “A loving father, husband and active member of our community, Wally’s life was dedicated to service. Despite his achievements, he lived his life with great humility, kindness, compassion and excellence. Everyone he met was a friend.”
In 2015 he was presented a Congressional Gold Medal for his military service by U.S. Rep. Tom Reed.
“Although he lived during a time when racial discrimination and segregation were still terrible realities in many parts of the United States, his patriotism never wavered and he willingly risked his life for our nation,” Young said.
A memorial service with full military honors for Higgins will be held on Sunday, Sept. 9, at 2 p.m. at the Union University Church in Alfred.