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Issues : Survivor Of Pearl Harbour 75th anniversary ~The Dean Higuchi Interview
Pitt Meadows Today Editor David Murray meets with former World Champion wrestler Dean Higuchi tells all about Pearl Harbor, working for Elvis and of course delighting thousands of wrestling fans in the Fraser Valley!
David Murray: Thanks for doing this interview for the “Pitt Meadows Today” Champ!
Dean Higuchi: I am humbled by the opportunity to tell a bit of my story!
DM: Dean where were you born?
DH: I was born in Honolulu Hawaii.
DM: You are married and have two sons?
DH: Yes my wife Rose and I have been married for almost 40 years, we have two sons Rik and Keli.
DM: When you were young you experienced the December 7th 1941 Pearl Harbor attack? What can you tell me about that day?
DH: First of all I was only nine years old, it was a Sunday I recall. I was at church. “Sunday School”. The pastor went out of the room and came back and said we were all to return to our homes as quickly as possible. We asked why? The Pastor said “There’s a war on!” The only thing I knew about war was playing in my back yard with my toy soldiers. As I was walking home I could see huge plums of smoke coming from the harbor. High above me there were dog fights going on everywhere. Just before I arrived home there was a Japanese Zero just four blocks from where I lived, had just moments before crashed landed. My dad told me to stay put, He was off to investigate a situation that saw a bomb go off which was dropped from one of the Japanese planes just down the street from us. It was the corner grocery store. When my Dad arrived he witnessed the husband being able to get out of the wreckage, when he looked again he saw the man’s wife crawling her way out of the burning store on her hands and stomach with no legs.
This really impacted my father. He made our whole family stay in the same room for over 6 months. He never forgot what he saw. I remember we were not allowed to have the lights on , only candles. This lasted for quite awhile when I was a kid in Hawaii.
DM: That is an experience I am sure you will take with you forever Dean.
DM: Dean when you got a little older did you play sports in high school?
DH: Yes, I played football at Roosevelt High School, nose guard on defense and tackle on offence. We all played both ways then. I also played basketball in school.
DM: It sounds like you were quite an athlete Dean. Did you go on to play college sports?
DH: Yes I went to an iconic football school, the University of Southern California (U.S.C.). I played one season as a freshman. I got home sick and returned to Hawaii after that one season.
DM: I was told that you worked on the movie “Blue Hawaii” with Elvis Presley? What do you remember about meeting and working with Elvis?
DH: Elvis was a very giving and truly nice man. He loved the beach and just wanted to be one of the guys. He would ask me , “Dean where are we going tonight?” He didn’t really like to be noticed but everywhere he went with me and my friends he got noticed. Especially in Hawaii. He had that hair, those long sideburns, and he was a very pasty white color, after all he was mostly a night person , performing mostly in the evening. He would wake up late . He wanted to go to the beach a lot , but as one of his security guards that was always a challenge , especially given his popularity at that time.
When he was finished the movie, he gave us all a new , crisp $100.00 bill for a tip. That was a lot of money in the mid-fifties. He loved Hawaii, in fact so much he donated a lot of money to several of the war memorials in Hawaii.
DM: Did you ever get a tryout in pro football?
DH: Yes, I tried out with the AFL San Diego Chargers and the NFL Los Angeles Rams.
DM: You also wrestled under the name “Don Ho”, What year did you start your wrestling career?
DH: I started wrestling as a pro in 1956 in Honolulu. It was there I met promoter Sandor Kovacs who was a big promoter in the Pacific Northwest. He brought me to Portland Oregon where I started wrestling on the mainland which lead me to Vancouver , which is the area Sandor promoted.
DM: Where was the biggest crowd you ever wrestled in front of Dean?
DH: It was in New York City, 18,000 people at Madison Square Garden. My partner and I , Tony Garea from New Zealand won the World Tag Team Championship in 1971. It was against Mr Fuigi and 300 pound Toru Tanaka who were the world champion’s for quite awhile back then.
DM: Your son Keli had a medical condition when he was born?(I used to coach Keli at Terry Fox high school in the mid-1990′s)
DH: Yes, it was hard, he had cystic hygroma, it was a congenital multiloculated lymphatic lesion that grew on Keli’s throat. It was removed at a San Francisco Hospital. Thank heaven’s for Tommy Douglas bringing in medicare for Canadians. My wife Rose is a Canadian. The cost was over $100,000.00 for the surgery. We still had to pay a portion of this because we were in the United States. It was after that I returned to Canada for good to raise my family. We truly live in the greatest country in the world!
DM: You wrestled at the Garden Auditorium at the PNE grounds a lot and also at the Lake City all-star wrestling site. Did you wrestle often in Chilliwack, Langley, Abbotsford and Mission?
DH: Yes , many times I wrestled in Abbotford, Chilliwack and Langley. Depending on how high you were up on the wrestling card , depended on how much you made. If you were one of the feature events you would make $300-$500. If you were near the bottom of the wrestling card you would make $25-$50. This required a lot of us, me included wrestling 5 or 6 times a week to pay the bills. This is why we would be out in the Fraser Valley one week, the next week we would go to the Okanagan, the next week Vancouver Island, and when we went up north we would go for a couple of weeks. We did not get any expenses paid for us, we had to pay for our own hotels, that is why if you can imagine this 4 or 5 big guys in one room. And believe me , the rooms were not the Hyatt. If we ate at a restaurant , that was a real luxury, coming home with a few dollars was a priority.
We did not have a trainer on the road with us , so if we got hurt it was Ben Gay or some other rub we administered ourselves. We did not even know about using ice in the 1950′s and 60′s. We got banged up pretty good, especially when you had a wrestler like Haystack Calhoun 700 pounds fall on you from 5 or 6 feet. We never complained about things. If we did , we would be let go from the circuit. Some of the boys tried to get together and start a pension fund, they were all let go. Even after all that I still would do it all over again today. It was a passion.
DM: What other sport did you participate in Dean?
DH: Weightlifting , I think that is why I was able to last as long as I did, 1956-1981 4-6 times a week. I actually finished 6th in the 1956 Mr.America weightlifting contest in Hawaii.
DM: I know that you made many friends on the wrestling circuit Dean, who were some of your best friends.?
DH: Don Leo Jonathan , who still lives in Langley, Gene Kiniski who passed away recently, Eric Froelich who lives in White Rock, Dutch Savage who lives in Longview Wa. Some of my favorite wrestlers to watch besides Don and Gene were Roy McLarity, he was the Gordie Howe of wrestling, Dory Funk Jr who I wrestled in Kamloops, Bo Bo Brazil and Haystack Calhoun.
DM: You have certainly went through the “Good, the Bad and the Ugly” in your life Dean. What would you like to say in closing to the reader’s of the “Today”?
DH: “Work hard towards your goals” “Most importantly-enjoy the process!”