on: 25 Sep 2005
Updated: 07 Aug 2006
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Thurmont Marine killed in Iraq
Published on August 1, 2006
Lance Cpl. James Willard Higgins Jr., USMC, 22, of Thurmont, was killed Thursday, July 27, in Al
By Alison Walker-Baird
THURMONT-- If everything had gone as planned, Deborah Higgins of Thurmont would be welcoming her son James
home in three weeks. Instead, she is planning his funeral.
Marine Lance Cpl. James Willard Higgins Jr., 22, died Thursday from wounds suffered while conducting combat
operations in the Al Anbar province of Iraq, his family said Monday. He was assigned to the Weapons
Company 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in Camp
Lance Cpl. Higgins, a 2003 graduate of Catoctin High School, deployed to Iraq in January. He was scheduled
to arrive in California in mid-August and fly into Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall
Airport on Aug. 26.
The son of Ms. Higgins and James W. Higgins Sr. of Elizabethtown, Pa., Lance Cpl. Higgins will be buried
with full military honors Friday at Resthaven Memorial Gardens in Frederick.
His mother, sister Melinda and brother Joseph sat at
the family's kitchen table Monday evening sorting through pictures of Lance Cpl. Higgins with his
family. While some memories evoked smiles and others tears, Ms. Higgins said her son would have been proud
of the way he died.
"He believed in freedom and in serving his country, he believed in standing up for what is right," she said.
Melinda Higgins, 18, said Lance Cpl. Higgins wouldn't have wanted to die any other way.
Melinda had helped her brother pick out Marine-red sheets and a bedspread that decorated his bed in the
family's home. A wall in his room was adorned with a large Marine Corps poster and a teddy bear held an
"He was very honored to be a Marine -- he was honored to be chosen to serve," Lance Cpl. Higgins' mother
A legacy of hard work and determination
Lance Cpl. Higgins' friends and family said he lived his life with dedication and passion for the military,
academics, football and flying. In 1999, he joined the Frederick Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol
and received numerous decorations, including Most Gung-Ho Cadet in 1999 and Tri-Wing Encampment Honor
Cadet in 2000.
Ms. Higgins said her son had aimed to be president of the United States since he turned 11. "He loved his
country with all his heart," said Joseph Higgins, 20.
Lance Cpl. Higgins joined the Marine Corps in April 2005 and completed basic training at Parris Island,
S.C., that June. He graduated School of Infantry at Camp Lejeune, N.C., in September 2005, qualifying as a
Machine Gunner Rifle Sharp Shooter and that month joined the Weapons Company.
Lance Cpl. Higgins received the National Defense Service Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal, the Sea
Service Deployment Ribbon, the Combat Action Ribbon and the Purple Heart.
Catoctin High's athletic director, Tom Sherald, said Lance Cpl. Higgins was disciplined in his approach to
everything, from being clean -cut and well-dressed -- sometimes wearing his air
patrol uniform to school -- to excelling on and off the football field.
In addition to being an honor roll student all four years of high school, Lance Cpl. Higgins played junior
varsity football in 9th grade and varsity from 10th to 12th grades.
He was also named Most Valuable Player of his Catoctin Youth Association Baseball team and was the 1998
Catoctin Youth Association Football MVP on defense,his mother said.
Mr. Sherald said Lance Cpl. Higgins was a conscientious and versatile football player. "He was a
quiet, polite young man," he said. "I'm sure he was as much of an asset to the troops as he was to us."
He said striking similarities exist between Lance Cpl. Higgins and fellow Catoctin High graduate U.S. Army
1st Lt. Robert Seidel III, who died in Iraq in May, from the men's strength to their patriotism.
"It's a real shame," he said. "These two boys died within two months of each other. We buried Robby on
Memorial Day and now, two months later, we'll bury James."
Friends cope with reality
The news of Lance Cpl. Higgins' death is still sinking in for his best friend, Shawn Kelly, 19, of Thurmont.
"I'm stunned; I don't know how to process it," Mr. Kelly said Monday evening. "To me, he's still over
Little things like not being able to toss around a football in the backyard will remind him of his
friend's death, Mr. Kelly said. He had been friends with Lance Cpl. Higgins since elementary school. "It
was me and him all the time."
Mr. Kelly and Lance Cpl. Higgins spoke for the last time about a week before his death, about what they
would do when Lance Cpl. Higgins came home in August.
"My father and grandfather had a bad feeling about him [serving in Iraq], but I never had that feeling," Mr.
Kelly said. "I just thought about when he gets back, that we were going to hang out, grow old together.
This war never really felt that real to me."
Mr. Kelly and Lance Cpl. Higgins' friend Marine Pvt. James Michael Campbell of Thurmont will serve as
honorary pallbearers at his funeral Friday, along with Lance Cpl. Higgins' father and brother.
Viewings for Lance Cpl. Higgins will be held 7-9 p.m. Wednesday, as well as 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. Thursday
at the Stauffer Funeral Home, 104 E. Main St., Thurmont.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at the
Lynfield Event Complex, 10142 Hansonville Rd.,
Frederick, off U.S. 15.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the James W. Higgins Jr. Benefit Fund, care of M&T Bank at
the Francis Scott Key Mall Branch, 5585 Spectrum Drive in Frederick. Proceeds from the fund will be given to
the Catoctin High School Football Program and toward college expenses for Joseph and Melinda Higgins.
Family mourns fallen Marine
Thurmont man remembered for his patriotism By Nicole Fuller sun reporter
Originally published August 1, 2006
When he was 11, Lance Cpl. James W. Higgins Jr. asked his mother for a gift that might seem a peculiar
request from a child: an American flag.
Every morning, he raised that flag, which flew outside his family's Thurmont home. And he lowered it at dusk.
"It had to be positioned outside of his window just so, so that he could see it every morning," said his
mother Deborah S. Higgins. "He was just so patriotic. People would ask him, 'What's your most prized
possession?' And he would say the American flag."
Higgins, 22, a member of the Marine Corps and 2003 graduate of Catoctin High School, was killed in Iraq
on Thursday during fighting in Al Anbar province, the Defense Department said yesterday. He was shot in the
chest, his mother said.
He was the fourth service member from Maryland to die in Iraq in the past three weeks and the 52nd since the
war began in 2003. Another Catoctin alumnus, Army Lt. Robert Seidel III, was killed in Iraq in May.
Through history classes in school and many hours in front of the television watching the History Channel
and CNN, Corporal Higgins' affinity for the military grew. He joined the Marines on April 11, 2005, after a
brief stint at Frederick County Community College, and arrived in Iraq in January.
"He goes, 'Mom, if something happens to me, make sure I'm remembered,'" his mother said.
Deborah Higgins said she last spoke to her son the Sunday before he died. She said he was scheduled to
return to his home base in California in mid-August, where she and her two other children, Joseph, 20, and
Melinda, 18, would meet him. She is divorced from his father, James W. Higgins Sr., who lives in
"He sounded concerned with the escalation of everything and that he really couldn't wait to get
home," Deborah Higgins said. "He wanted to come home and he wanted to sit outside and know that he wasn't
going to be shot. He wanted to take a deep breath, relax, spend some time with his family."
Since he was 13, Corporal Higgins had been a member of the Air Force Auxiliary Civil Air Patrol, where he
developed a love for aviation. He took private lessons to become a pilot.
"He said it was like being a bird in the sky," his mother said. "It was so peaceful."
In high school, he played football and earned honor roll grades. His favorite subject was history.
"In high school and junior high he studied history and he was an excellent history student," his mother said.
"There wasn't anything you could ask him about history that he didn't know ... . He enjoyed it and the more
he learned about history, the more he wanted to be part of something special."
"What does 1941 stand for?" Corporal Higgins would ask, his mother remembered. "What time of day did
Pearl Harbor start?"
"He would use history as a quiz," his mother said. "He would trip everybody up. He just loved history. He
loved his country. He loved what America stood for."
Jack Newkirk, the principal at Catoctin High School, never met Corporal Higgins. He began working at the
school only a year ago. But he said that staff members at the school recalled him yesterday as "a good
football player, a solid student and well-liked."
"He made it well known that he had chosen the military as his career when he was in high school," Mr. Newkirk
As a junior, Corporal Higgins had helped bring the Catoctin Cougars football team its first winning
season in five years with a 30-yard kickoff return that helped set up the game-clinching drive against
Brunswick, according to a November 2002 article in the Frederick News-Post.
"I wasn't surprised," the young Higgins told the paper. "I'm ready for anything. I went to the outside
and stepped on the first person that came at me. Football is a game of field position and I'm glad we
went down and scored."
Joseph Higgins played football alongside his brother in high school and remembered him yesterday as "a
loving, caring man - a great Marine."
"When I got the news that he was going to Iraq, I was proud for him, because that's what he wanted to do,
because he was proud of his country. But I was also worried for him. But I stood behind him and supported
him all the way."
Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.
information compiled by Michael James
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