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World War II veteran celebrates 100th birthday

Wyoming Tribune-Eagle - 2/17/2024

Feb. 16—CHEYENNE — Victor (Vic) Higgins is a painter, woodworker, golfer and a veteran. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Today, he turns 100 years old.

A birthday party was held at Higgins' grandson's house Wednesday to celebrate his life and honor his service. The Cheyenne Veterans Affairs office presented him with a letter from Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough along with a red, white and blue blanket with eagles on it and challenge coins from the national and local VA offices.

"Well, I'll be darned," Higgins said upon receipt of the letter and coins.

"Our Nation honors your service as an Aviation Machinist in the United States Navy during WWII," McDonough said in his letter. "You are part of this country's 'Greatest Generation' for your legacy of patriotism and honor. Americans enjoy the blessings of peace and liberty because of patriots like you who answered the call to defend our Nation. We remain grateful to you and to your generation for helping defend democracy and shape the world we live in today."

Higgins served four years in the U.S. Navy, starting in 1941. He spent time at Navy Pier in Chicago before it was an entertainment destination, when it was used as a training center for the Navy.

He also served on San Clemente Island, off the coast of California between Los Angeles and San Diego, as an aviation machinist for two-and-a-half years and was never in combat.

Looking at his new blanket, he recalled the eagles he used to see during his time in the Navy, but not as many as were on the blanket.

His favorite thing about being in the Navy was going lobster fishing. "I enjoyed that more than anything," he said.

During his time in the Navy, he also discovered his passion for art.

"They had quite a few recreational things and so I volunteered for everything that I could," he said. "So, I really had a good time doing that."

Higgins also got into woodworking and continued throughout his life. He built cabinets for one of his homes and a hutch for his mother.

Following the war, he worked on constructing greenhouses and worked as a home inspector for much of his life in Glendale, California.

He spent many years living in a small town in Humboldt County in northern California with his wife and two daughters. Around two-and-a-half years ago, Higgins moved to Wyoming to live with his grandson, Brandon Young.

Young said he, along with his wife and two daughters, were happy to welcome his grandfather into his home. "I said, 'It'd be an honor to have him live with me and take care of him' ... He means everything to his entire family. He is very revered by everybody here. They just absolutely adore him."

Veteran receives home-based care from VA

Last March, Higgins joined the VA's Home Based Primary Care (HBPC) program. The program is for veterans who need team-based in-home support for ongoing diseases and illnesses that affect their health and daily activities.

"We do everything that primary care could do in-clinic at their house," said Darcy Harris, HBPC Director for Cheyenne.

HBPC came to Cheyenne in the early 2000s and now serves around 80 veterans in the area. Around 25 staff serve veterans in the HBPC program within a 30-mile radius of Cheyenne as well as the VA offices in Longmont, Colorado, to the south and Sterling, Colorado, to the east, extending into the Nebraska panhandle.

"Here, we've got dogs, kids, visitors and people will come in and say 'How are you doing, Grandpa? How are things going?' It's a home filled with love," said HBPC Medical Director Dr. Theresa O'Donnell. "This particular home is absolutely filled with love. We don't always see that, but our job is to take care of vets where they are."

O'Donnell has held the position for four years and said they are expanding to be able to serve more veterans in rural areas who may fall outside of the 30-mile radius from Cheyenne.

Higgins said he was appreciative of the recognition he got for his service in the military.

"I join your VA health care professionals, family, and friends in celebrating your life and your service to America," McDonough said in his letter. "Please accept my coin as a token of our gratitude and appreciation. We send warm wishes to you for good health and cheer. We feel honored to serve you. God bless!"

What is a challenge coin?

Challenge coins originated around WWI. People in the military receive them from higher-ups for good deeds. Those who receive a coin are supposed to always have it on them. When going out for a drink, someone may initiate a challenge by slapping their coin on the table or bar and the last coin-bearing member to do so must pick up the bill. If everyone puts their coin on the table, the one who initiated the challenge pays.

"Through the years it just became a way to recognize the troops from commanders and stuff," said Kenneth Bush, associate director of the Cheyenne VA Healthcare System. "It goes all the way up to the highest level now. Commanders, the president has coins, the secretary of defense. All the big D.C. people carry coins all the way down to commanders at F.E. Warren Air Force Base. They each have their own coin that they present to people for good deeds."

Bush said present day coins are more of a recognition and not as often used to initiate a challenge.

Noah Zahn is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's local government/business reporter. He can be reached at 307-633-3128 or Follow him on X @NoahZahnn.


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