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Murl Higgins video interview on experiences in World War II (transcript)

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This is Suzette McCord-Rogers and Peggy Stanton. We are at the home of Murl Higgins. It is December 8, 2006. Mr. Higgins, can you hear me?

Mr. Higgins: Fairly well.

Suzette: Oh! Is this your better ear? Can you tell me when you were born?

Mr. Higgins: Near Ponca City, Oklahoma on a farm.

Suzette: Ponca City, Oklahoma, on a farm. And when did you move to Kansas?

Mr. Higgins: I think when I was about four years old.

Suzette: When you were four years old. And where did you move to?

Mr. Higgins: Welll, first was a pig farm in Pittsburg, down in southeast Kansas. Then up to this county, where my grandparents lived.

Suzette: Here in Doniphan County?

Mr. Higgins: Yes.

Suzette: About how old were you when you came to Doniphan County?

Mr. Higgins: Probably eight.

Suzette: Eight years old? So, is this where you went to high school and…

Mr. Higgins: I went to high school in Severance.

Suzette: At Severance? Is that where your grandparents lived by Severance?

Mr. Higgins: No, they lived near Troy.

Suzette: They lived near Troy?

Mr. Higgins: Yeah.

Suzette: And where did you parents live?

Mr. Higgins: Well, they settled around near Troy too, at first. Then they moved around quite a bit. They moved to Severance, then finally to Highland where my dad retired.

Suzette: Were they farmers, or ranchers?

Mr. Higgins: Yeah, mostly farmers. Well, my dad worked in that coal mine, strip pit, in Pittsburg. And then he thought farming was the best deal, so that's what he did the rest of the time.

Suzette: What did he grow? What did you raise?

Mr. Higgins: Uh, well, we moved around quite a bit. I'll tell you, at first, …then we moved down near Troy, then later over near Severance.

Suzette: And you graduated from the Severance High School?

Mr. Higgins: Yes.

Suzette: In 1930?

Mr. Higgins: Yes.

Suzette: And did you help your parents on the farm then? What did you do after you graduated?

Mr. Higgins: I stayed on the farm until I was 25, and then I went to barber school.

Suzette: And then you went to barber school?!

Mr. Higgins: Um, hum. Kansas City.

Suzette: Kansas City?! What made you decide to go to barber school?

Mr. Higgins: There wasn't any future on the farm. Ha ha ha!

Suzette: Did you have brothers and sisters?

Mr. Higgins: I had one brother and one sister.

Suzette: One brother and one sister? Did they stay on the farm?

Mr. Higgins: No! They was smarter than I was! They took off.

Suzette: They did?! Left you behind. Well, um, you're married, you're married?

Mr. Higgins: Me? Yeah, to Alma Bingman.

Suzette: OK, and you have children?

Mr. Higgins: Two sons. Mike and Jerry.

Suzette: Mike and Jerry. Let me take you back to…when did you, did you enlist or did you get drafted during the war?

Mr. Higgins: 1942

Suzette: 1942. Were you drafted or did you enlist?

Mr. Higgins: I was drafted.

Suzette: You were drafted in 1942.

Mr. Higgins: I didn't ask to get into that thing!!

Suzette: ha ha

Mr. Higgins: I'll tell you about FDR. Do you remember Franklin Delano Roosevelt?

Suzette: Uhh, I've heard about him!

Mr. Higgins: You probably don't. Well, he made this speech. He said, ``I hate war! As long as I'm president, none of our boys will ever be sent overseas.'' In six months, he had me over there! Chuckling

Suzette: LaughingPearl Harbor happened in that period of time. Were you in Kansas City when you got drafted?

Mr. Higgins: No, I had quit. This barber business was botherin' my eyes, I thought it was. It was, the lighting was insufficient and I quit the barber business. Then I came back and farmed, went to work in agricultural end, mostly, and some government construction, and fought forest fires, worked in Los Angeles in a department store, have a lot of miles on me. Ha ha

Suzette: I guess you do. This was before, um, after you graduated from high school?

Mr. Higgins: Yeah, quite a long time after.

Suzette: OK. How old were you when you graduated from high school?

Mr. Higgins: I was 19.

Suzette: 19?

Mr. Higgins: I got stuck. When we came to Kansas, they had a law that you couldn't get into the first grade until after you took a primer class. Well, I was almost seven before I got even to take that, see. And that took me another year.

Suzette: OK. Let ask you, what's your birthday?

Mr. Higgins: December 30, 1910.

Suzette: December 30, 1910. So how old are you?

Mr. Higgins: Now?

Suzette: Yes, how old are you today?

Mr. Higgins: Well, on the 30th I'll be 96.

Suzette: 96?!! That is incredible! That is an incredible age, isn't it?

Mr. Higgins: I think I can see more days.

Suzette: I think you can. So you came back to Severance, and you got drafted here from Severance?

Mr. Higgins: Well, actually, I had moved into town here with my folks, they came into town here, early '42. And I moved in here with them. And they drafted me from here.

Suzette: OK, that's at Highland, Kansas, right?

Mr. Higgins: yeah.

Suzette: So what branch of the service were you drafted into?

Mr. Higgins: First, we went to a training camp, in Camp _____, and I was trained on the heavy weapons, 81 millimeter mortar, and 50-caliber machine guns. Well, after my boot training was completed, they sent me to Hawaii to join a regular company. Then they made me a rifleman. And then, they found out I was a barber, and the barber got sick, so I took his job. Ha ha--- When we weren't in combat or special training, I finally, that's all I had to do. While the other guys were out walkin', I just rested, and they came back, and I worked on them.

Suzette: So you were in the Army?

Mr. Higgins: Yep.

Suzette: What was your regiment, or…?

Mr. Higgins: I was in the 34th Infantry regiment, the 24th Division.

Suzette: And the 24th Division. And you were stationed in the Pacific?

Mr. Higgins: Yes.

Suzette: OK. From Hawaii, where did you go?

Mr. Higgins: Ok. We went to, from Hawaii to Australia, got down to Sydney, and then we moved up the coast a ways to Rockhampton, then we went up to a small island near New Guinea, Goodenough, didn't even show it on the map. Anyway, then we was over to New Guinea, we're in Dutch New Guinea, and landed… This is where the strong fighting is at.

Suzette: Was when you hit New Guinea?

Mr. Higgins: And then we moved to Biak Island. It was just a bunch of rocks and landforms and mosquitos. You couldn't even dig a foxhole. For protection, we had to build it up out of rocks.

Suzette: Why? Because of the water table?

Mr. Higgins: Because it was all rock!!! Ha ha ha So anyway, we moved up to the Philippines, and then we got into some rough combat. They did us a landing on Leyte. And then we went to Mindoro, then to Davao, then to Luzon. We started to Manila, we got held up in the dang pass, and somebody got into Manila while we's stuck up there.

Suzette: You never made it to Manila. You did not get to Manila?

Mr. Higgins: No, we didn't. Batangas and _______ that's about all we got to.

Suzette: Do you have any particular memories of any of your campaigns that were special to you?

Mr. Higgins: Oh, I think it tells about…well, we had, we were fighting Japs all the way up to that. All the way up through the Philippines, well, we haven't got time to read all this, but it tells about it. But here's the thing I wanted to mention.

My work experience in the Army----my best buddy got killed.

Suzette: Do you want me to read this? That paragraph?

Mr. Higgins: Yep.

Suzette: This is about, uh, uh, now where were you when this happened?

Mr. Higgins: Well, I believe we were on Luzon. I'm not sure of that.

Suzette: And you were part of Baker company?

Mr. Higgins: Uh, I was in Baker company, most of the time, until towards the last of the thing they got me transferred into headquarters as a barber.

Suzette: As a barber? OK.

Mr. Higgins: This thing here tells about this, and this is a shock when your best buddy is laying dead out in the rain and you'll never see him again.

Suzette: That's right. That must have been…

Mr. Higgins: And he was a barber too.

Suzette: …very hard for you. He was a barber too?

Mr. Higgins: Um, hum.

Suzette: What Mr. Higgins has here is, CHILDREN OF YESTERDAY, by Jan Battin, and in it it talks about his company, which was Baker company,

Mr. Higgins: It's all in here, but it'll take a while to get through it.

Suzette: …you wanted me to read this one paragraph about your friend's death. Is that right? And it said:

``When darkness came, Japanese machine gun fire into the perimeter became so murderous that Baker company's men laid flat in the mud, unable to dig their holes for the night. Sgt. James McFarland, (that was your friend), of Lexington, Kentucky, crawled through an unprotected rise in the ground to direct mortar fire on the enemy guns. In rain and darkness, he could not see a thing. He stood up then to see better. He now saw the red muzzle flashes of the gun and he told the mortar men where they should lob their shells. When the firing ____of exploding shells of Jap gunners ceased firing, they moved away from their guns. Now, Baker company could dig in, they called for McFarland, there was no answer. James McFarland lay dead in the rain.''

Mr. Higgins: Yes.

Suzette: That was really hard on you?

Mr. Higgins: That was the very worst experience I had in the war I could remember. That's all, everything, that was it, that affected me the most. But these people, I don't understand it. Some of them have nightmares, they have dreams, terrible things. I never had a dream about the army that I remember.

Suzette: Do you think there is any special reason?

Mr. Higgins: Well, part of it is character! Ha ha ha I don't know what the rest of it is.

Suzette: It's character. What do you use as your advice so that you don't get troubled by these things?

Mr. Higgins: I didn't understand.

Suzette: How did you do that? How did you deal with that? How did you keep from getting upset?

Mr. Higgins: Oh, I just shut `er down I guess! I never even thought about it, really. But I saw people with their innards thrown out, their brains thrown out, their arms and legs off, and it didn't bother me.

Suzette: It was part of your job?

Mr. Higgins: That's what I figured. That's all it was to it.

Suzette: So you just moved on, moment to moment? To the next thing to do?

Mr. Higgins: Just sort of drifted with the tide, more or less.

Suzette: And you think this helped you come throughout being emotionally damaged? Did that help you get through the war without feeling emotionally damaged?

Mr. Higgins: I don't know what did. I just, didn't drain on me. That's all I can tell you.

Suzette: Um, hum. Do you remember any other of your particular encounters you had during the war? You saw a lot of action. You're a Medal of Honor winner? Is that correct? You received the Medal of Honor.

Mr. Higgins: Well, that's what they told me it was.

Suzette: What did you do for your Medal of Honor?

Mr. Higgins: Well, it was the unit that got the Medal of Honor.

Suzette: The Baker company received the Medal of Honor?

Mr. Higgins: Well, I'm not very good here.

Suzette: You are doing just fine. You take your time.

This action that you saw when your friend was killed, that was on Easy Hill. Do you think that was by Rutan?

Mr. Higgins: There's one there that tells the story.

Suzette: ``Private First Class Murl Higgins was in the First Battalion of the Victory Division crack 34th Infantry Regiment, and he saw action in the campaign to free the Philippines. With their battalion below strength after 21 days of hard fighting, they drove deep behind enemy lines and held a ridge (that must have been Easy Ridge) to deny the Japanese commanding positions facing our main forces. For more than three weeks, they conquered the ridge against great odds. They beat off 27 savage attacks, many by superior enemy forces, some in darkness or night during torrential rains. They killed 825, and I quote, Nips, more than one per man for the battalion.'' This is an article from February 18, 1945, from the ST. JOE GAZETTE.

``Artillery, and mortar shells, hand grenades, rifle and machine gun fire kept them low day and night in sticky mud and foxholes. Ammunition and food supplies were often delayed; at times, they met the attack head on, in furious hand to hand combat, with dwindling ammunition supplies. Acts of individual heroism became commonplace. Many men of the battalion became ill, with colds, dysentery, feet ulcers, but they continued to fight. A relief unit was sent to the ridge, they closed their part of the mission by leading an attack to drive the Japs from strong positions near the perimeter.''

And for this, your company received the Medal of Honor. Is that correct?

Mr. Higgins: Let's see if it mentions it in here; I don't know.

Suzette: And here is an appreciation certificate that's…

Mr. Higgins: That's a local thing there.

Suzette: OK. So that sounds like you did a wonderful job there. That's why you did that. You're apparently a hero.

Mr. Higgins: Yeah, they are. I don't know if it makes…

Suzette: Here's an American Defense Service Medal, Asiatic Pacific Service ribbon, here's a good conduct medal from 1943, the Philippine Liberation ribbon with two Bronze service stars, a unit citation, and he also was in Luzon, southern Philippines, and New Guinea. So, it sounds like this was a honor, a medal of some kind.

What were you doing? Did you shoot guns, were you shooting like a mortar, what was your specific role that you remember in some of these battles?

Mr. Higgins: Well, they had me doin' different things. Whatever they needed. They had me in a bomb squad, they had me a messenger, they had me a rifleman, they had me as a guard for the radioman, and I don't know what all, you know. In the meantime, I was in there, mostly as a rifleman fighting the Japanese.

Suzette: You are one of the few people I've talked to that has actually seen active combat. Actually in the thick of it, a real hero. When you were in that battle, did you form other friendships that you maintained as a result of being in the service together?

Mr. Higgins: Well, nothing like McFarland. The others were more like casual acquaintances, more or less. I didn't form a bond with `em.

Suzette: Oh, you didn't?

Mr. Higgins: It's just like you out here in the civilian life, just ordinary people, that's all.

Suzette: Did you feel hesitant to form close friendships after you watched your friend McFarland?

Mr. Higgins: Did what?

Suzette: Did losing your best friend keep you from maybe getting attached to other people?

Mr. Higgins: No, I wouldn't say that. This was just an actual thing that came along that we got together, and became good friends.

Suzette: You mention that you went to Australia. Did you get to sight see a little bit? Did you get to see Australia?

Mr. Higgins: Oh, yes, quite a bit. I learned to ride a bicycle down there. I had never ridden a bike before. There wasn't any other traffic, big, broad, empty street; I rented a bicycle and rode around til I got tired. It wasn't hard to learn on that street.

Suzette: Did you like Australia?

Mr. Higgins: Yes, I did. Those people were more like our people here. Our Caucasian race.

Suzette: As a result of seeing this other, bigger place, the Philippines, Australia, and meeting people from all over, did it change the way you looked at things? Did it expand you a little bit?

Mr. Higgins: Well, I don't know that it had much effect on me. I just took it as it came along, as I remember.

Suzette: How long were you in the service?

Mr. Higgins: Three and a half years, to the day.

Suzette: When did you get out?

Mr. Higgins: September 26, of '45.

Suzette: And how old were you when you actually got drafted?

Mr. Higgins: I think I was nearly 32.

Suzette: 32?! OK.

Mr. Higgins: They were hard up for men. Ha ha ha

Suzette: Did you meet your wife as a result of being in the service? How did you meet your wife?

Mr. Higgins: No, I met her at, when we moved into Highland. When I got discharged from the war I came back with my folks, right across the street over there. And then I met Alma.

Suzette: Did you have your uniform on when you met Alma?

Mr. Higgins: No, no.

Suzette: You didn't need your uniform to court her?

Mr. Higgins: You know what? I never wore that thing, because I couldn't button it. I didn't think it was really flattering.

Suzette: Oh, that's right. You said they had a shortage of size 41. So they gave you one that was too small.

Mr. Higgins: That is the way it went. I could have gone to Leavenworth and got one that fitted me but I didn't take the trouble to do it.

Suzette: Chuckling---Do you have any other memories or any other things you'd like to share with us from being in the battles, when you were stationed?

Mr. Higgins: Right now, I can't think of anything special, but all the time these things were goin' on, you know, but I just took `em as they came.

Suzette: Now I notice that it says your company fought for 21 days. What was that like to be here in Kansas, and suddenly you're in a jungle, with torrential rains and you're holding on, what was that like for you?

Mr. Higgins: It was pretty easy for me to adapt to all these situations. Some people, some of `em I don't believe had ever been off of the asphalt jungle, and it was hard for them. In the cities, you know. I'd been on the farm, and I was used to this rough workin', rough life, more or less, you know, and it didn't bother me that much. Course I didn't like it! Ha ha You dig a foxhole, raining half full, you'd have to sit on the helmet the rest of the night. You couldn't lay down in your foxhole.

Suzette: Did you ever empty your foxhole out? Did you have to empty them out or did you just get full of water?

Mr. Higgins: Yeah, but, there was a thing. When you're in combat, they considered that anything that moved, anybody that moved any enemy, so you had to be careful about that. And some people got shot from that too.

Suzette: Ohhh. So you didn't move around a lot.

Mr. Higgins: You couldn't. No. They always had a blackout from the time we went to Soray(?), and all through the war, was always a blackout.

Suzette: What did that mean for you? A blackout for you? What does that mean?

Mr. Higgins: No lights at night.

Suzette: OK. Could you smoke?

Mr. Higgins: No.

Suzette: Cause that's a light. That would draw their attention.

Mr. Higgins: I don't know, probably it wouldn't have mattered about anybody smoking. I never smoked.

Suzette: When you got discharged, you were discharged in the Philippines? Is that where you were?

Mr. Higgins: No, I was discharged from Fort Logan, Colorado, near Denver. I got into Denver, and they misplaced my records. So all I had to do was go into Denver every day. They got tired of me, so I had `em to look up my discharge papers, and they found `em in a desk way back in an empty building. I don't know how they got back in there.

Suzette: And so then you got discharged? From Colorado? And you came back to Highland after that?

Mr. Higgins: Yes.

Suzette: And met your wife? Did your life change after having been in the Army?

Mr. Higgins: I don't remember anything. Far as I know, there wasn't any change.

Suzette: When you came back, what job did you do?

Mr. Higgins: When I came back, I got into a service station with my brother-in-law for awhile, and I got too much of that. And then I got into used cars for quite awhile. Oh, let me think! That lasted for a long time. Then I started barbering again. I bought a shop in St. Joe and I barbered in there for 17 years, driving from here to St. Joe.

Suzette: And when was that? In what years?

Mr. Higgins: That was '59 to '76.

Suzette: to '76? So you ended up as a barber, you know, after you came back for awhile. You got training as a barber after high school, got out of it, got right back in it the end, right?

Mr. Higgins: Well, the reason I quit in the first place, it was bothering my eyes, as I mentioned before, and while I was on it, I found out that I didn't need any glasses or I didn't need any light in the daytime. So it wasn't my eyes that was givin' me trouble. It was the insufficient light. So then I got back into barbering again. It was the best thing I knew to do.

Suzette: OK. Did you, I know that you were a barber also when you were off duty in the army. When you weren't into combat, you were a barber. Did that help train you additional, give you additional training as a barber? That it made it easier for you to go back to barbering?

Mr. Higgins: In order to get a license, in Kansas and Missouri, which I had both of `em, you had to take an examination. You had to take a person to work on, haircut, shave, massage, whatever, and answer 26 questions.

Suzette: And so that was easy for you?

Mr. Higgins: Well, yes. Missouri was easy, but Kansas, I mean these people were onery. They never told you what questions you missed or anything about it. Well, the required deal was 86, and I only made 84, I don't think I failed in the first place! They had bunch of dummies down there. They didn't want too many barbers in business. So, I remember all these questions, I had to go to Wichita, take a man with me, stay overnight, so I remembered all these questions. I looked for something like that. They tried every way they could to keep me from getting a barber license in Kansas. But I finally got a hold of a politician, and he kinda straightened `em out so then I went back to Wichita, took the examination, and I passed that time.

Suzette: Wow, that's wonderful! Did you take advantage of the GI Bill to ….

Mr. Higgins: No, I never did.

Suzette: Did you ever apply?

Mr. Higgins: No, I like to be independent! I just don't want to be obligated to anybody, and that made me feel like I would have been if I'd a taken this government stuff.

Suzette: OK. Did your unit ever get together? Do you have annual get-togethers of your unit from World War II, from when you were in the Philippines? You know, some….

Mr. Higgins: Yeah, I know. I know what you're saying. No, if they were, I never got into it. They probably were, some of `em, but I wasn't much of social guy and I didn't get into any of those things!

Suzette: I have a question. Do you remember Pearl Harbor day? Do you remember when it was announced?

Mr. Higgins: I remember all about it.

Suzette: Well, tell me about it, tell me about your feelings that day.

Mr. Higgins: Well, the only thing that I can tell you, those Japanese made a terrible miscalculation. Even worse than Bush is! You know that. Anyway, they thought that the United States couldn't fight wars on two fronts. We're engaged in Europe, that's when they made their mistake.

Suzette: They thought that we wouldn't attack them, is that correct?

Mr. Higgins: They should did.

Suzette: They thought we wouldn't respond, that we…

Mr. Higgins: They thought we couldn't! They didn't think we were able to do that, see. We mopped `em out! Ha ha

Suzette: Can you remember any of the, like when you were in the Philippines, did you interact with the people from the Philippines, or did you pretty much stay on the base?

Mr. Higgins: Oh, I associated with the people, but there wasn't much to do. We bought some things from `em, you know, and they always had bananas, and this and that, you know, and shrimp. We traded `em things. They didn't have any soap or sugar….

(End of tape)

Mr. Higgins: (continuing) …they have, that are English. Most of `em I met up with, they speak some English, good grammar. Finally I met a girl, a 19-year-old girl, and she was an English teacher. Then I found out why some Filipinos didn't know good English, because she didn't either!

Suzette: Because what?

Mr. Higgins: She didn't either!!

Suzette: Did travel in other countries, like the Philippines and Australia, did that make you aware, expand you a little bit, that there's a bigger world out there? Did that change?

Mr. Higgins: Well, we went from Hawaii, maybe even from Frisco to Hawaii, on a captured German stock boat converted to a troop ship, 4000 men. And we took it on down to Australia, and then comin' back, we rode it again from Leyte back into Frisco.

Suzette: The same ship! Wow!

Mr. Higgins: And, when we went down, they called for barbers. So there's a couple of us went down in the holes, and we cut hair as fast as we could. So we when we came back, I kept lookin' for `em to ask for a barber. They never did. Well, after about a week, they had water towers on each end of the deck, and the guy started cuttin' hair on the far end of the deck. I thought, well, if he does it, I can do it. So I got in the shade of the other water tower, settin' on a garbage can, and I cut hair, I cut more than two heads of hair all the way home. When we got into port, there was just as many people waitin' for a hair cut as there was when we started.

Suzette: Did you continue to cut `em when you got into port?

Mr. Higgins: Beg your pardon?

Suzette: Did you continue cutting hair when you got into port? Did you continue cutting their hair when you were in port?

Mr. Higgins: No, when we got into port, they disembarked. Took us off the ship and that was the end of the hair cutting.

Suzette: Chuckling---did you feel, were you eager to come back to Kansas when you got out?

Mr. Higgins: Well, yes. I didn't like that war! I didn't ask to be in it in the first place. And the main thing I was lookin' for was the day to get out!

Suzette: So you were ready to come home?

Mr. Higgins: Yes. Or anything to get out of it! I didn't like that.

Suzette: Do you think that after World War II that it changed our society? That it opened us up with highways? Did you travel more?

Mr. Higgins: Well, yes, because I had money. I came up in the bad Depression. You don't know anything about it. That '29 Depression, I mean it was terrible. There wasn't anybody, if you had a nickel, you could buy a bowl of chili, a bottle of pop, or a hamburger for a nickel, loaf of bread for a dime. You don't remember those days.

Suzette: Chuckling---I don't. But it was hard to get that money, to buy that loaf of bread?

Mr. Higgins: It was almost impossible. So when I came back, there was money. No I loaned money on interest, and cut hair, and traded, and bought and sold stuff in there, you see, in my free time, and all together, I got out of there with $9000 in three years.

Suzette: Wow, that is really successful.

Mr. Higgins: That was a lot of money in those days. That was some shrewd operating.

Suzette: It was! You must have been a wheeler-dealer. No wonder you went into the car business. You have to be a good salesman.

Mr. Higgins: Well, I wasn't into it in a big way, just maybe a car or two now and then, just something to keep me busy. I'd buy some, and repair `em, you know, I could do body work and mechanic work and all that stuff, and fix `em up and sell `em. And finally, in 1970, I think it was, I bought a salvage yard down by Wathena. It had used cars in there, and I was still barbering..

Peggy: I remember that place.

Mr. Higgins: but I had my boys workin' in there, and all kind of help..

Suzette: So you think that money helped open up the state. People felt they had money to travel, buy things..

Mr. Higgins: It was a great help, I'll tell ya.

Suzette: ….get out more.

Mr. Higgins: Yeah. I want to tell ya about Severance. You know Severance means cut off? Cut off?

Suzette: Yes.

Mr. Higgins: OK. Severance was a railroad town, and there wasn't transportation, you know, horse and buggies, wagons, whatever, you know. And uh, it was a thriving town; they had most everything there that you needed. Just four years I went to school down there, from uh, well, I ended up in '30 anyway. And uh, '26 to '30. Anyway, finally, as the roads and the transportation progressed, Severance just died. I mean the railroad didn't mean anything anymore.

Suzette: When was that, do you remember?

Mr. Higgins: Well, after, I don't know, it was just a gradual thing. From the time that I got out of high school, all down through the years, it just gradually faded out. Because they got them improved roads and highways and transportation and the railroads didn't mean a lot.

Suzette: People started using cars and highways and stopped traveling on trains, and using them for transport?

Mr. Higgins: Well, not only that, but the freight and everything, you know. Trucks took it over, and if I didn't have another way to get into high school, the railroad came up on a branch up to Highland, see. Well, it came right through our farm. So I'd go down there and get on a train, made me a little late, but I'd get on a train and ride to Severance to high school.

Suzette: Really?

Mr. Higgins: Well, I only had two or three modes of transportation. Ya either had to walk, ride an old work horse, draft horse, or sometimes, I had a car. Sometimes I could get money enough to buy gasoline, 9 to 14 cents a gallon…ha ha….My dad had an old Model T, and sometimes I would drive it, if I'd get the money for the gas. Like I was sayin', that was a tough deal tryin' to get money.

Suzette: So, from Highland to Severance is how far? How long would that take you to walk?

Mr. Higgins: I don't know that, but the transfer was down at ____Station, from this branch up here at Highland, and then they'd get on the main track and go down through Severance. I suppose it would take about oh maybe a half hour.

Suzette: But if you had to walk, that would be a lot longer.

Mr. Higgins: When I walked, and the weather was good, I could make it in an hour, four and a half miles. If it was muddy, I didn't do that well.

Suzette: ChucklingWas your service, overall, a positive experience for you being in the Army?

Mr. Higgins: Well, I wouldn't say it was positive. It was just a thing.

Suzette: ..in your life. It didn't open you up or make you aware of anything beyond your own hometown?

Mr. Higgins: Well, the main thing it made me aware of the size of the world.

Suzette: Yes, it made you more aware of the world. Have you ever received any veterans' medical benefits, or any other benefits? Did you receive veterans' benefits or medical benefits or anything from them?

Mr. Higgins: No, nothing from the Army.

Suzette: OK, you don't want to have anything to do with the government.

Mr. Higgins: I'll show you a paragraph here I wrote up. It was about my travels. Did you hear of wallabys? Those little kangaroos in Australia? There's one there…

Peggy: Everett Shelton went basically the same route. He went to Hawaii, and then to Australia,..

Suzette: Oh, they are so cute. I didn't know they were so little.

Mr. Higgins: There's a couple of coconuts that I had in Hawaii.

Suzette: Those are coconuts?!

Mr. Higgins: I've got one of these around here somewhere but I don't know where. My wife's hidin' my stuff!!

Suzette: She does? That's the role of women. That's what women are supposed to do.

Peggy: You can't be blamed for that, can you!

Suzette: …Oh, you lived here in Highland…you're a Highland native. Um, I want to just ask you..

Mr. Higgins: That's weird thing; when I want to find something I can't. Should've had men do it.

Suzette: Do your sons live here in Doniphan County, or do they live nearby? Your sons, do they live nearby?

Mr. Higgins: One of them lives in Wathena; he's in maintenance for Johnson Controls; that's Gary. And Mike lives in Atchison and he's a ___for Atchison Casting. They've got good jobs.

Suzette: They do. They live near you.

Mr. Higgins: They're pretty intelligent; they know things I never heard of.

Suzette: They probably got it from you.

Mr. Higgins: I'll find it pretty soon.

Peggy: I'm amazed how he remembers all that stuff.

Suzette: He is a doing a wonderful job.

Mr. Higgins: Yeah, this is it. I wrote that.

Suzette: You declined Officers' Candidate School. How come you didn't want to be an officer?

Mr. Higgins: The more responsibility you had, the more likely you were to get killed. Ha ha Far as I could see. That's the reason I turned down the sergeant's deal in there. The guy that took my place, my sergeant came along and said ``Turn in your big rifle and get a little rifle'' and this and that, and I said ``Do I have a choice?'' Yeah, what is it? Well, I said, just leave me alone. So there was a guy by the name of Vallee, you remember Rudy Vallee used to be a singer, we called him Rudy. I don't know what his first name was. So Rudy was next in line. So they told Rudy they was gonna make him sergeant. Oh, he jumped in the air, ``I'm a sergeant! I'm a sergeant!'' In three weeks, he was the late Mr. Vallee, and that's what would've happened to me, and I knew it.

Suzette: Why? Did they target officers?

Mr. Higgins: The thing of it was they sent these raw recruits over there, you might as well be trying to herd a flock of quail!! They wouldn't do what you wanted, they didn't know what to do, and they got you killed! I saw this time after time. I didn't want to be killed. I was too young to die. Ha ha

Suzette: Well, it sounds like you were pretty aware of what was going on. You noticed things, and watched what was going on.

Mr. Higgins: Yes, I knew everything that was going on.

Suzette: I see here that when you were in Luzon that you captured two Japanese flags and some currency and some rifles and you have those here. In a minute, we're going to put them on our video cam and talk about them a little bit. The picture you showed me from Australia, what was those, they weren't kangaroos, what were the little ones called?

Peggy: Wallabys.

Suzette: Were they tame? Were the wallabys tame?

Mr. Higgins: They had to make pets out of them. They weren't naturally tame. But if they'd get `em when they were real babies, you know, well then they weren't afraid of people. One day I heard a bunch of dogs barkin', the country was pretty level, and here came two or three dogs chasin' one of these kangaroos. He was jumpin' about 20 feet, and they couldn't even close to him. He was a big one.

Suzette: A big one?

Mr. Higgins: They just use their hind feet to travel.

Suzette: That's right. They do that. OK, Peg, you ready with the video? OK. Let's talk a little bit about some of the things that you got. This is a Japanese flag you got from Luzon…

Mr. Higgins: This is the national flag.

Suzette: And do you remember the story about how you got it?

Mr. Higgins: Excuse me.

Suzette: Do you remember anything about how you found it or the story behind it?

Mr. Higgins: Not really. Most of this stuff I got off a dead soldier.

Suzette: Off of a dead soldier? And this is an individual….

Mr. Higgins: I know I got that one off a dead soldier.

Suzette: And this is an individual personal flag with the name of the soldier, and it is made from silk. Did all of the Japanese soldiers carry these?

Mr. Higgins: An individual flag.

Suzette: Did they all carry these? Most of the soldiers carried these? Most of the Japanese soldiers carried them, individual flags?

Mr. Higgins: No, not most of them. I was just lucky to find that, far as I can tell, I never saw another one.

Suzette: Oh! So that was the unusual! Let me get your uniform over here. Do you have some other things you wanted to share?

Will you explain your medals again? Tell us the story of your coat and your medals.

Mr. Higgins: all of them?

Suzette: Yeah.

Mr. Higgins: This is a machine gun…that's a rifleman, and this is a Pacific campaign, this is New Guinea for that battle, and these two are on …the liberation of the Philippines. This I can't remember, but it's something.

Suzette: Tell me what you called this.

Mr. Higgins: That's a ruptured duck. Ha ha

Suzette: A ruptured duck! And this is when you were discharged.

Mr. Higgins: That's it too, that's a discharger.

Suzette: I've heard that term, but I didn't know what it was.

Mr. Higgins: …I think it was a combat area.

Suzette: combat area where you were. And this is the efficiency…

Mr. Higgins: One of these I think is the good conduct, I can't remember that…

Suzette: Oh, I think you did. This is for good conduct.

Mr. Higgins: They don't make it in this book, but one of these was supposed to be a Congressional Medal of Honor, but I don't know which one it is. But they didn't mention it.

Suzette: Well, no, they didn't, did they.

Mr. Higgins: Two medals they didn't give me, and I had to get after `em, and had an awful time getting' `em, I know that. But that isn't fair, you know. They get rid of you, you've already done your job, and get out.

Suzette: Get ready to move on. This is a good conduct medal, and this is a medal from World War II,..

Mr. Higgins: Does it tell you anything?

Suzette: No it doesn't. Just says World War II.

Mr. Higgins: I don't know which ones those are for. I should've written that down. They got a lot of information on `em, but I can't really…

Suzette: I'll tell you what..it says United States of America, freedom from fear and want, freedom of speech and religion, is what this medal says. And here are your dog tags. Anything else that you have for us?

Mr. Higgins: Well, all of these, these six months overseas, they call them hash marks. That I can't remember, that's private first class, and ….

Suzette: Are you private first class when you went in? And private first class when you came out?

Mr. Higgins: I beg your pardon.

Suzette: What was your rank when you went in?

Mr. Higgins: Well, when I went in I was a private, this private first class is all I earned. They just came automatically; it wasn't anything I did, time overseas.

Suzette: And when you got out, what was your rank?

Mr. Higgins: Just private first class.

Suzette: OK. He did not want to go to Officers' school, he did qualify.

Mr. Higgins: I could have been a dead soldier, but I didn't want that!

Suzette: What kind of things do you have over here that you wanted to share?

Mr. Higgins: One of my boys was in here the other day, and he shuffled around here.-- There's where we got held up and didn't get to Manila, Zigzig pass.

Suzette: Zigzig pass in Luzon. So you had a major battle there.

Mr. Higgins: I think I must have gotten that off of an officer. See, he had money.

Suzette: Yea, he did have. 100 yen, is that yen? Japanese governor 10 pesos.

Mr. Higgins: They had that money printed up. Now that was for New Guinea, that's New Guinea.

Suzette: That New Guinea? Good. It's in English. It says for Japanese government. 5 pesos.

(Loud noises here, can't hear what they are saying!)

Suzette: Here's 100 pesos. Again, it's in English. And you got this from an officer? A Japanese officer?

Mr. Higgins: I'm not sure of that. I think so, but they got kinda wise, you know. The officers couldn't have any insignia on their uniforms cause they were sure to get killed. You couldn't tell an officer from the enlisted men. None of us could.

Suzette: ….Here's the Japanese government 50 centavos (scraping, scratching noises here!) and then this was the billfold that it was in. Was it in this billfold? The money?

Mr. Higgins: I guess, I don't know. No, here's the money that was in this billfold.

Suzette: Oh, I see. It's still in there.

Mr. Higgins: This guy wasn't that rich. He only had 10, whatever it was. Ha ha

Suzette: Oh, this guy seems to be rich. Maybe he just got paid.

Mr. Higgins: If somebody could read Japanese, they'd know what that said.

Suzette: Oh, now this is Japanese money. This is written in Japanese.

Peggy: Look at the billfold. It is Japanese.

Suzette: Yeah, it is. It's black silk, and 10 yen, this is 10 yen.

Mr. Higgins: Here's what they kill us with.

Peggy: Oh, my. (Conversation here from all, but away from the microphone)

Mr. Higgins: Kinda strange lookin' money, isn't it?

Suzette: It's a big difference from our money.

Mr. Higgins: And this is a souvenir from the Philippines. These are native vines, and bark, and stuff.

Suzette: Oh! And so the people made these and then they kind of sold them? To make money?

Mr. Higgins:…There's a lot of information on the other side here.

Suzette: Is this a personal stamp?

Mr. Higgins: Now that's a personal thing. I got it off one of those soldiers. Now this guy had a pad. I suppose this had a pad with ink. See there's his insignia.

Suzette: Wow! That's interesting.

Mr. Higgins: There's a compass I got off a Jap.

Suzette: Now that's kind of an interesting compass. It says Commonwealth Philippines. This is a belt buckle. So this must not be from Japanese, this isn't from Japanese, is it?

Mr. Higgins: The Japanese took everything they could get, you know. And some fellers just quit. They were no ____, no coconut groves, no pineapple fields, no nothing. They just quit cause the Japanese took everything they had.

Suzette: So they quit producing agriculture? When the Japanese occupied the Philippines, they stopped growing things.

Mr. Higgins: The Filipinos just quit workin'. This is a Filipino, I think they call `em a bolo. I carried that in most of the war.

Suzette: You did? You have it…

Mr. Higgins: You'd like to look at it?

Suzette: No, that's your personal thing.

Mr. Higgins: There's another thing or two I want to show you. Here's the thing when we left Troy, that's atebrin. I had to take that to prevent malaria. You could tell anybody that's been overseas for a period of time, even their skin turns yellow, and the whites of their eyes turn yellow for taking that atebrin. ….most of them, they throwed them out in the brush, when we'd go through the chow line they'd give us these things to take. And they'd throw it out, pretty soon they'd fall over, pass out with a fever of 104 or something like that, see. Go to the hospital, come back and do the same thing.

Suzette: So that wasn't helpful? Was it helpful?

Mr. Higgins: Oh, yeah. That saved us from getting malaria. This is water-purifying pills. We were supposed to wait 20 minutes, but we couldn't always wait for that. I'll tell you, we got water out of…

Suzette: Oh, to purify your water.

Mr. Higgins: …out of rock, old ground water, anywhere we could get water. We had to get it. We'd been at a location in the Philippines for about three weeks, getting water out of a stream. Kind of a small river, not very swift, but anyway, we got water out of there to drink, I saw that kink in there and everything, so they said they was getting a little low on water and they went up the stream a little farther, and there was three dead Japs floating in the water. Ha ha

Suzette: Ohhh, I'm surprised you didn't get sick!

Mr. Higgins: I got a kick out of that.

Suzette: Were you drinking out of that water?

Mr. Higgins: Yes! We were drinking it all the time.

Suzette: Now, you have this is a …

Mr. Higgins: It's the same thing, mine's down here somewhere, let's see. That's the same thing as you read before, see.

Suzette: I haven't seen a vintage HIGHLAND VIDETTE before.

Mr. Higgins: I believe this came off a Jap. This is a light-duty thing for their dog tags. See how much lighter that is than ours? They were small..

Suzette: Small people?

Mr. Higgins: They had this story out---there was a Japanese boy there, he was six feet tall and 200 pounds, ….some of the stuff in this book is not really accurate because over there, I experienced it, the situation, you know. They get these off of field reports, but a lot of it is OK and I got a lot of it marked where I was in there.

Suzette: I saw that, you had a lot of notes in that book. I think it was something that you really did experience. It's a good memento for you, something you can pass on to your sons. Do you have grandchildren?

Mrs. Higgins: One granddaughter.

Suzette: One granddaughter.

Mr. Higgins: It was a little great-grandson.

Suzette: And a little great grandson.

Mr. Higgins: Let me show you.

Suzette: Do they come to visit quite a bit?

Mrs. Higgins: They live in Wichita.

Suzette: Oh, they do?

Mrs. Higgins: She's head of the occupational therapy and he's a physical therapist.

Mr. Higgins: I like this one.

Suzette: Oh, that is a good picture, isn't it?

Mr. Higgins: He's two years old there. He was 19 months when…he looks like a little man.

Suzette: He does! He looks like he's two years old right there….Is that your mother?

Mr. Higgins: I don't know who that is. I'll put them back together.

Suzette: Put that in there…I really, really enjoyed this interview. It's really interesting. Do you have any other comments, or anything that you'd like to make regarding your experience?

Mr. Higgins: Oh, I don't know that I do. Now, I've got a list here of my classmates, Severance graduation….


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