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Park Rapids' Independence Day parade grand marshal has served in two wars

Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Fred Higgins will serve as this year's grand marshal in Park Rapids' Independence Day parade.

Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Fred Higgins will serve as this year's grand marshal in Park Rapids' Independence Day parade.

Higgins served in World War II from April 1941 to December 1945, fighting in Tarawa, the Gilbert Islands and Okinawa.

He went on to serve in the Korean War from August 1950 to August 1951. He was engaged in battles in Inchon, Seoul, Kimpo, Wonson and Yonpo.

"I went in before the fight began," said the 90-year-old veteran, sipping coffee from a Camp LeJeune cup this week.

Graduating from high school in 1938, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, working three years at Itasca State Park before enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1941.

When the war ended, he joined the reserves, returning for training in California each year.

His memory is tarnished, but his humor remains. Higgins points himself out in a photo of his 37th Platoon in May 1941 in San Diego.

"Now find me," he jokes of a second photo with 200-plus soldiers in uniform.

A footlocker in a Higgins home holds uniforms from an era ago, trench coats and trousers neatly folded.

"This is his domain," wife Anna Mae said of her husband of 63 years.

Military honors bestowed to Higgins include:

• Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, awarded for three continuous years of active enlisted outstanding performance and conduct;

• American Defense Service Medal;

• American Campaign Ribbon, awarded for Service within the American Theater in WW II;

• Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two battle stars, awarded for two separated combat actions in the Pacific;

• National Defense Service Medal;

• Korean Service Medal with two battle stars;

• Service in Korea during time of war;

• Navy Presidential unit citation with one bronze star;

• WW II Navy Occupation Service Medal for Service in Occupation of Japan Occupying Forces;

• Victory Medal awarded for service in the US Armed Forces prior to 1946;

• United Nations Korean Service awarded by the United Nations for Korean War Service;

• ROK Korean War Service Medal awarded by the Republic of Korea for service in the Korean peninsula between 1950 and 1953;

• Sharpshooter Medal;

• Pistol Expert with two devices.

When he left military service, he took classes in agriculture in Wadena, aspiring to become a farmer. But he soon found the vocation would not support his growing family, daughter Sharon McFarren said. He began work on road construction, gone during the week, returning on weekends.

Higgins would endear himself to the community through volunteerism.

Higgins is a past commander and lifelong member of the Park Rapids American Legion. He was often behind the scenes - in the kitchen - assisting with cooking for area organizations' fundraising events.

He is a charter member of the Marine Corps League, Star of the North Detachment. He was involved in the 40 et 8 nursing scholarships, recruiting candidates and administering paperwork.

Health and age now preclude active participation, but he continues to be a community icon, recently attending a military funeral, dressed in uniform.

Up until a few years ago, he volunteered with the CCC to present the history of the organization at Itasca State Park.

The Veterans Administration presented him with an award for 100 hours of volunteering, he and Anna Mae driving over to Fargo to play bingo with disabled vets.

He is a great-grandfather to 19, has 13 grandchildren and eight children.

"He is a unique person," said McFarren. "Every day is gift." In January, he nearly died after back surgery. "He is a joy..."

She related a story of his granddaughter presenting with a bumper sticker identifying him as a proud grandfather of an Army reservist.

But he didn't affix the sticker until he spoke with fellow Marines on the matter, requesting permission.

"Absolutely!" they told him.