William R. Higgins

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William Richard Higgins
Colonel William-R-Higgins.jpg
William R. Higgins, USMC
Born(1945-01-15)January 15, 1945
Danville, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedJuly 6, 1990(1990-07-06) (aged 45)
Beirut, Lebanon
Place of burial
Quantico National Cemetery
(Plot: Section 23, Number 141)
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
Years of service1967-1990
UnitUnited Nations
Battles/warsVietnam War
AwardsDefense Distinguished Service Medal
Defense Superior Service Medal
Legion of Merit
Bronze Star with Combat "V"
Purple Heart
Combat Action Ribbon
RelationsLtCol Robin Higgins, USMC, Ret. (spouse), Chrissy Higgins Tabaka (daughter)

William Richard Higgins (January 15, 1945 – July 6, 1990) was a United States Marine Corps colonel who was captured in Lebanon in 1988 while serving on a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission. He was held hostage, tortured[1] and eventually 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 in the Republic of Vietnam as a rifle company platoon commander and executive officer with C Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division. He also was aide-de-camp to the Assistant Commander of the 3rd Marine Division.

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.

He returned to Vietnam in 1972, serving as an infantry battalion advisor to the Vietnamese Marine Division. In 1973, he served as a rifle company commander with B Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, in Vietnam.

From 1973 to 1977, Captain Higgins served at the Staff Noncommissioned Officers Academy and Officer Candidate School at 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 Marine Regiment. 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, while in captivity.

Capture and murder[edit]

Headstone detail
William R. Higgins' headstone in Quantico National Cemetery

On February 17, 1988, Higgins disappeared while serving as the Chief, Observer Group Lebanon and Senior Military Observer, United Nations Military Observer Group, United Nations Truce Supervision Organization. He was driving alone on the coastal highway between Tyre and Naqoura 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 suspected of being affiliated with Hezbollah.[1][2][3] During his captivity, he was interrogated and tortured.[1]

As a reaction to his abduction, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 618, demanding his release. A year and a half after his abduction, images of his body, hanged by the neck, were televised around the world from a videotape released by his captors. The exact date of Higgins' murder is July 31, 1989; he was declared dead on July 6, 1990. His remains were recovered on December 23, 1991, by Major Jens Nielsen of the Royal Danish Army, who was attached to the United Nations Observation Group in Beirut.[4] His remains were found beside a mosque near a south Beirut hospital.[5] He was interred at Quantico National Cemetery, Triangle, Virginia, on December 30, 1991.

On February 16, 1992, Israeli troops assassinated Hezbollah leader Abbas al-Musawi, avenging Higgins' death. [6] Hezbollah responded one month later by attacking the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 people.

Military awards[edit]

Higgins' military decorations and awards include the following:

In April 2003, he was posthumously granted a Prisoner of War Medal.[7] DoD General Counsel Judith A. Miller initially blocked the award in 1998 based on the claim that "circumstances do not appear to meet the criteria established by Congress for award of the Prisoner of War Medal." The Navy later overruled her after it was determined that the 1989 expansion of the eligibility criteria allowed the award.[8]

Other awards and honors[edit]

On March 18, 1992, President George Bush awarded Higgins the Presidential Citizens Medal (posthumous). The medal was accepted by his wife, Robin, and daughter, Chrissy. 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 Higgins. On October 4, 1997, the USS Higgins (DDG-76) was christened by Higgins' widow, Robin Higgins and commissioned on April 24, 1999.[9]


  1. ^ a b c Cooper, Anderson (2006-07-29). "CNN PRESENTS — Encore Presentation: Inside Hezbollah". CNN.com. Retrieved 2008-09-03. Hezbollah is a suspect in the torture and murder of U.S. Colonel William Higgins. Higgins disappeared in 1988, while leading a U.N. observer group in south Lebanon. A year and a half later, this video appeared on television screens around the world. Higgins, badly beaten body, hanging from a rope. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ Bethanne Kelly Patrick. "Col. William R. 'Rich' Higgins: Spirit Of Murdered Marine Leader Lives On In USS Higgins". Military.com. Retrieved 2006-11-28. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ "Security Council demands immediate release of UN peace-keeper — Lt.-Col. William R. Higgins". UN Chronicle. December 1988. Retrieved 2006-11-28. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ "Lebanon—UNOGIL". United Nations Peacekeeping Missions. United Nations. Retrieved January 19, 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ Giandomenico Picco, Man Without a Gun, Times Books, New York (1999)
  6. ^ Ranstorp, Magnus (1997). Hizb'allah in Lebanon: The Politics of the Western Hostage Crisis. New York: St. Martins Press. p. 107. ISBN 0-312-16288-X.
  7. ^ See memo from Secretary of the Navy to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, "Prisoner of War Medal ICO Colonel R. Higgins, USMC," dated January 16, 2003.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ "Simple File Sharing and Storage". MediaFire. Archived from the original on 2012-09-05.
  9. ^ "USS Higgins (DDG 76)". navysite.de.


Further reading[edit]

  • LtCol. Robin L. Higgins, USMC (Retired) (1999). Patriot Dreams: The Murder of Colonel Rich Higgins. Quantico, VA: The Marine Corps Association. ISBN 0-940328-25-9.