WILLIAM R. HIGGINS
William Richard “Rich” Higgins (January 15, 1945 – July 6, 1990) was a United States Marine Corps colonel who was captured in 1988 while serving on a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission in Lebanon. He was held hostage, tortured and eventually brutally murdered by his captors.
William Higgins was born in Danville, Kentucky on January 15, 1945. He graduated from Southern High School in Louisville and earned his Bachelor’s degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. A scholarship student in the Navy ROTC, he received the Marine Corps Association Award and was commissioned in the Marine Corps in 1967. He later obtained Master’s degrees from Pepperdine University and Auburn University. He graduated from the Army Infantry Officers Advanced Course, the Air Force Command and Staff College, and the National War College.
As a lieutenant, he participated in combat operations during 1968 with C Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines in the Republic of Vietnam as a rifle platoon commander and rifle company executive officer, and was aide-de-camp to the Assistant 3rd Marine Division Commander.
Returning to the States, Lt. Higgins served at Headquarters Marine Corps in 1969. In 1970, he served as the Officer-in-Charge of the Officer Selection Team in Louisville, Kentucky.
Captain Higgins returned to Vietnam in 1972 as an infantry battalion advisor to the Vietnamese Marine Corps, then in 1973 served as a rifle company commander with B Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines.
From 1973 to 1977, Captain Higgins served at the Staff Noncommissioned Officers Academy and Officer Candidate School, both in Quantico, Virginia.
Returning to the Fleet Marine Force in 1977, Capt. Higgins was assigned to the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where he again served as a rifle company commander with A Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines. Upon promotion to major, he was reassigned as the Logistics Officer for Regimental Landing Team 2, 4th Marine Amphibious Brigade.
After completion of the Air Force Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base in 1980, designated a distinguished graduate, Higgins returned to Washington, D.C. where he served at Headquarters as a Plans Officer until his selection to the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
During 1981 and 1982, he served as Military Assistant to the Special Assistant to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense, then as Assistant for Interagency Matters to the Executive Secretary for the Department of Defense. After graduation from the National War College in 1985, he returned to the Pentagon as the Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, where he served until he was transferred to his United Nations assignment in July 1987. He was promoted to colonel on March 1, 1989.
On February 17. 1988, Higgins disappeared while serving as the Chief, Observer Group Lebanon and Senior Military Observer, United States Military Observer Group, United Nations Truce Supervision Organization. Higgins was driving on a coastal highway between Tyre and Naquora in southern Lebanon, returning from a meeting with a local leader of the Amal movement, when he was pulled from his vehicle by armed men. He had been captured by a pro-Iranian group suspected to have ties with Hezbollah. During his captivity, he was interrogated and tortured. His official status with the United States government was “hostage”, not prisoner of war. As such, the government did not insist on treatment consistent with international law.
A year and a half after his capture, images of his body, hung by the neck, were televised around the world – from a videotape released by his captors. The exact date of Colonel Higgins death is uncertain; though he was declared dead on July 6, 1990. Finally, on December 23, 1991, his body was recovered – dumped on a Beirut street. He was interred at Quantico National Cemetery on December 30, 1991.
Higgins was promoted to the rank of Colonel in 1989, while in captivity.
Col. Higgins’ military decorations include: the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star with combat “V”, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, Navy Commendation Medal with bronze star and combat “V”, Combat Action Ribbon, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with silver star, Staff Service Honor Medal, United Nations Medal, and numerous unit commendations and campaign ribbons.
On March 18, 1992, President George Bush awarded Col. Higgins the Presidential Citizens Medal (posthumous). The medal was accepted by his wife, Robin, and daughter, Chrissy. Col. Higgins was also survived by two sisters.
On February 17, 1994, the Secretary of the Navy announced a new Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer would be named for Col. Higgins. On October 4, 1997. the USS Higgins (DDG-76) was christened by Col Higgins widow, Robin Higgins. It was commissioned on April 24, 1999.
In April 2003, after over 10 years of trying to have Col. Higgins recognized as a prisoner of war, he was finally posthumously granted a Prisoner of War Medal.