Co-workers at Newsday -- and most of his own family -- knew Eugene P. Higgins of Bay Shore as a good guy, a good ad salesman, and a good father.
It was not until his final years, long after retiring from Newsday as vice president and advertising director, that Higgins told his son, Paul, about his perilous time as a combat pilot on the USS Franklin in World War II -- sitting in the cockpit of the only available fighter on the deck of the flaming carrier as it listed badly in the waters off Japan after being bombed by an enemy fighter on March 19, 1945.
"The flight deck out of commission. There was enough room and ability to launch one plane. He and the other pilots took turns for 35 minutes, ready to launch if there was another attack," his son said. "Sit there as defensive measure. No way to land again. An inevitable suicide mission. Fortunately, they did not have to launch. It was the longest 30 minutes of his life."
Higgins, who survived the attack that took the lives of more than 800 crew members, died Tuesday at 94, his family said.
"I never heard a word about the war years," said David Targe of Lake Grove, who worked with Higgins at Newsday for more than 30 years. "I knew he flew off a carrier. That's about it. I never knew he served in the Pacific. I never knew about his background, and I was close to him."
Targe and Higgins both joined Newsday's advertising department about the same time in the 1950s, and Targe gave his friend credit for linking the newspaper and the new department stores that were springing up on Long Island after the war.
"Gene was really the first guy who signed contracts with Macy's, Fortunoff and other major department stores. He brought in the P.C. . . . [Richard] account. He helped them expand and he helped us expand," Targe said.
"His leadership inspired the ad department. He helped make Newsday a greater place in every way," Targe said.
Higgins was born in the Bronx, where he attended Cathedral High School. He dropped out of Manhattan College to join the Navy in 1942. He returned and got his degree after the war.
He met and married Margaret Brannigan in 1949, and they had four children. She died in 2010.
The couple moved to Levittown in 1951 and later bought a home in Massapequa, where they lived for 43 years. They moved to a condo in Bay Shore about 12 years ago.
Both were congregants at St. Rose of Lima parish in Massapequa, where he was a member of the Holy Name Society. He also was vice president of Nassau Literacy Volunteers.
He owned a boat, liked traveling and visiting antique stores with his wife, still dabbled with a childhood stamp and coin collection and followed the Mets, said his daughter Susan Hickey of East Northport.
"He took a deep interest in his children," she said. "He always went to our track meets, basketball games, baseball games. He was very giving, giving of his time, very involved with the grandchildren. My dad was a good guy."
Other survivors are sons Gregory of West Islip and Matthew of Deer Park, nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
The family received visitors Friday at Fredrick J. Chapey & Sons funeral home in West Islip from 7 to 9:30 p.m. A liturgy of Christian burial will be celebrated at 8:45 a.m. Saturday at St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church in Bay Shore. There will be a private cremation.