Who we lost KY: A life well lived - story about Noel Biggs
WUKY is collaborating with Martha Greenwald, creator and curator of 'Who We Lost KY'a writing project where friends and families who have lost loved ones to the pandemic pay tribute and in some cases, say their final goodbyes. Today we have an essay written by Tamela Biggs of Franklin County about her father Noel Biggs. The essay is titled A Life Well Lived. Suzanne Powell reads.
Noel Biggs and his older twin brother, Frederick, were born on Christmas Day in Henderson, Kentucky. Noel was an inquisitive child who liked to take things apart to see how they worked, including his mother’s mantel clock and the engine of his father’s 1930 Buick; however, they both worked better after he put them back together. He was ambidextrous, able to work and write with both hands. Noel excelled at math and history. He had a life-long love of learning and would read as many books and manuals as he could on a subject, teaching himself many skills, including wiring of electrical circuits, basic plumbing and carpentry. He never met an engine he could not repair or a structure he could not build. Growing up by the Green River, he and his friends learned to swim, dive and pilot fishing boats, and his father’s ferry boat at a young age.
Following Pearl Harbor and days prior to his 18th birthday, Noel enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Noel was trained as a “frogman” and was a member of the Navy’s Underwater Demolitions Team. He saw action in Europe, Africa and the Philippine Islands, serving aboard the USS John Hopkins, USS Eric V. Hauser, USS Brontes, and the USS Ernest G. Small. While serving in the South Pacific, he was part of the team sent to rescue a downed fighter pilot taken captive by an island’s native cannibals. When his ship arrived off the coast of Naples in 1943, too many were moored in the harbor, so Noel’s ship dropped anchor just outside. Ships burned smoke pots to obscure their position. Despite their attempts at camouflage, the German Luftwaffe found their target and Noel was injured by flying shrapnel. The hospital in Naples where he was taken for treatment was also hit, losing the roof and a portion of a wall of the wing Noel was admitted to. Noel and other patients watched the bombers continue through the city until staff came to remove them from the rubble. His awards include the Philippine Liberation Ribbon, Victory Medal and Good Conduct Medal.
After the war, Noel worked a variety of jobs, including the construction of power lines through Central and Eastern Kentucky. He graduated first in his class from Hobart Welding School in Ohio, able to use any type of land or underwater welder. He worked at Alcoa Aluminum Warwick Works in Indiana for over 25 years as a Master Mechanic, Welder and teacher of Apprenticeship classes. After retiring, he moved to Frankfort. In his 80’s he came out of retirement to work part-time at Kroger West as a bagger, where customers knew Noel by his smile and kind demeanor.
In 1950, Noel and Frederick had blind dates with two sisters. Noel came to escort Dorothy and Frederick to escort Irene. By the end of the evening, neither sister liked Frederick, but Noel had taken a shine to Irene. Noel continued to visit “the family” until he got Irene to go on a date. His kind and easygoing personality and sense of humor won Irene over and they married in 1953. Years later, when he was teaching their daughter to read, he said “if you can read, books can talk to you – they can teach you things and take you to wild and wonderful places.” Noel also taught her to sing her ABCs, which got her in trouble when she sang them for Ms. White on her first day of first grade. When she told her dad “teacher says you don’t sing your ABCs” he laughingly replied, “Daughter, that’ s probably because your teacher can’t sing.”
Noel was baptized at an early age. He was active in the Masonic Lodge in Henderson and Morganfield and served as Grand Master. A member of First Baptist Church of Frankfort (on St. Clair), he was known as “The Candy Man”, greeting people with one of his many ornate baskets filled with peppermints, spearmint and butterscotch.
Noel loved God, his family, his country, bluegrass music and bagpipes. He is greatly missed by his friends, family and his daughter who lost her “gentle giant”. Noel Biggs, age 95, now walks with the angels.