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William R. Higgins

William Richard Higgins
William R. Higgins, USMC
Born(1945-01-15)January 15, 1945
Danville, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedJuly 31, 1989(1989-07-31) (aged 44)
Declared dead on July 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 service1967–1989 (Officially to 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), Christine Higgins Tabaka (daughter)

William Richard Higgins (January 15, 1945 – died July 31, 1989; declared dead 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.[2][3]


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

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

In 1982 the situation started to become more chaotic and violent.[4][5][6] Just three years before the kidnapping of Higgins, another retired American lieutenant colonel working for the CIA had been kidnapped, tortured, and murdered.[7][8] This situation essentially repeated itself with Higgins, and on February 17, 1988, he disappeared while serving as the Chief, Observer Group Lebanon and Senior Military Observer, United Nations Military Observer Group, United Nations Truce Supervision Organization.[9] 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 a car blocked the road in front of him and forcing him to stop,[10] after which he was pulled from his vehicle by armed men suspected of being affiliated with Hezbollah.[1][11][12]

As a reaction to his abduction, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 618, demanding his release.[13][14]

During his captivity, he was interrogated and tortured.[1][15][16] On April 21, 1988, a public statement in Arabic, along with black-and-white pictures of a disheveled and scruffy Higgins, was sent by the terrorists to the news agency Reuters in which they proclaimed that Higgins was a war criminal and would be tried by a "tribunal of the oppressed"; the kidnappers who claimed responsibility for Higgins' capture claimed to form part of a Shia Muslim terrorist organization called "The Organization of the Oppressed on Earth", which was in reality a pro-Iranian wing of Hezbollah.[16] Higgins was eventually charged with "spying for the criminal United States on our Lebanese and Palestinian peoples" plus having an "active participation in American conspiracies against our Muslim people". Higgins, the statement went on to elaborate, worked in Lebanon supervising a "Pentagon team to combat Lebanese and Palestinian Islamic organizations in Palestine and Lebanon". The accusations were rejected by American governmental officials as "nonsense" after noting how he had not even been working on behalf of the United States government, but for the United Nations and on a peacekeeping mission.[16]

After his kidnapping, rumors and unconfirmed reports about Higgins' death began to circulate. For instance, on April 18, 1988, a Lebanese radio news outlet named Voice of Lebanon and controlled by Maronite Christian (and thus, unlikely to be influenced by Muslim extremists), claimed that Higgins had died in southern Lebanon in the crossfire of an armed clash between pro-Syrian and pro-Iranian militias as both Syria and Iran fought a proxy war on Lebanon for control of said country;[16] additionally, sources from the United Nations in the region claimed that Higgins had died under torture after he had tried to escape.[17]

On 31 July 1989, the group announced that it had executed Higgins by hanging, and publicly released a videotape of the murder along with a statement calling the graphic footage "an opening gift" for Israel and the United States.[18][19] This was in retaliation for the abduction of Hezbollah leader Sheik Abdul Karim Obeid by Israeli commandos in South Lebanon, 27 July 1989,[20] during which two other people accompanying Obeid also were taken and a neighbour killed.[18] The operation had been planned by Israel's then Minister of Defence, Yitzhak Rabin.[21]

The footage showed images of his body, hanging by the neck as he slowly suffocated to death,[18] and were televised around the world.[16] FBI experts analyzed the footage and concluded the body hanged was indeed Colonel Higgins.[22] The video was also examined by Israeli security services, who raised doubts about its authenticity. Among other things, Higgins is seen in the video wearing a coat and winter clothes, which does not match the summer weather in July in Lebanon. Afterwards, with the return of his body to the Americans, knife cuts were discovered in his throat - which was likely the cause of death. According to the researchers who examined all the evidence, Higgins was murdered in December 1988.[23][24][25]

Higgins was eventually declared dead on July 6, 1990, and his remains 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.[23][26] The remains were found in an advanced state of decomposition[27] beside a mosque near a south Beirut hospital;[28] however, the body had been buried for several months prior. After Higgins was murdered, his kidnappers had buried the body then dug it out almost a year later with their public statements.[17] Once recovered, Colonel Higgins' body was flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where it was conclusively identified[24] and then he was interred at Quantico National Cemetery, Triangle, Virginia, on December 30, 1991.[29] A memorial and religious service for Higgins had previously been held in November, 1989 at Louisville's Southern High School, from which Higgins had graduated in 1963.[24]


On February 16, 1992, Israeli troops assassinated Hezbollah leader Abbas al-Musawi.[30] Hezbollah responded one month later by attacking the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, killing 29 people.

In 1999, Higgins' widow filed a civil suit against Iran as the main sponsor of Hezbollah and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard in United States Federal district court. The court ruled in her favor and issued a default judgement ordering the defendants, including the Islamic Republic Iran, to pay over $55 million in compensatory damages, the court further ordered an additional $300 million in punitive damages be paid by the Revolutionary Guard.[31] Any compensatory amounts recovered were shared among family members, attorneys' fees, and a non-profit organization. The punitive amounts are considered to be unrecoverable.[citation needed]

Military awards

Higgins' military decorations and awards include the following:

Gold star
Gold star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Silver star
Bronze star
Silver star
Parachutist Badge
Defense Distinguished Service Medal Defense Superior Service Medal
Legion of Merit Bronze Star Medal
w/ Combat "V"
Purple Heart
Meritorious Service Medal Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal
w/ Combat "V" and 516" Gold Star
Combat Action Ribbon
w/ 516" Gold Star
Navy Unit Commendation
w/ two 316" Bronze Stars
Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation
w/ 316" Bronze Star\
Presidential Citizen Medal
Prisoner of War Medal National Defense Service Medal Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
Vietnam Service Medal
w/ 316" Silver Star and 316" Bronze Star
Navy and Marine Corps Sea Service Deployment Ribbon Navy and Marine Corps Overseas Service Ribbon
Vietnam Cross of Gallantry
w/ 516" Silver Star
Vietnam Staff Service Medal
1st Class
Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation
Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Medal United Nations Medal Vietnam Campaign Medal

In April 2003, he was posthumously granted a Prisoner of War Medal.[32] Department of Defense 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.[33]

Other awards and honors

On March 18, 1992, President George Bush awarded Colonel Higgins the Presidential Citizens Medal (posthumous). The medal was accepted by his wife, Robin, and daughter, Chrissy. Higgins also was 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.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Keilar, Brianna; Cooper, Anderson; et al. (Directed by Jody Gottlieb; produced by Alex Quade, Mary Ade, John Cooke and Mark Nelson) (29 July 2006). "Encore Presentation: Inside Hezbollah". Written at Beirut, Lebanon. In Gottlieb, Jody; Jell, Lisa (eds.). CNN Presents. Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America: CNN Worldwide (WarnerMedia). Cable News Network (CNN). CNN. CNN Transcripts (CNN Presents). 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.
  2. ^ Paris, Taylor (1 August 2017). "Chapter 3: Denouncement And Why Hezbollah Was Deemed A Terrorist Organization" (PDF). In Rahnema, Ali; Majed, Ziad (eds.). The Rise And Geo-Political Significance Of The Hezbollah. AUP Department of History and Politics (Master of Arts). ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. Paris, Ile-de-France, France: American University of Paris (AUP). pp. 31–46 – via ProQuest.
  3. ^ Norton, Augustus Richard (2018) [2007]. "Chapter 4. Resistance, Terrorism, and Violence in Lebanon". In Eickelman, Dale F.; Norton, Augustus Richard (eds.). Hezbollah: A Short History. Princeton Studies in Muslim Politics (3rd ed.). Princeton, New Jersey, United States of America: Princeton University Press. pp. 69–94. doi:10.1515/9781400889655-006. ISBN 978-0-691-18088-5. LCCN 2018931062. OCLC 1132670389 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ Norton, Augustus Richard (20 June 1991). Keeley, Robert Vossler; Van Hollen, Christopher (eds.). "Lebanon after Ta'if: Is the Civil War over?". Middle East Journal. 45 (3). Washington, D.C., United States of America: Middle East Institute: 457–473. ISSN 0026-3141. JSTOR 4328316. LCCN 48002240. OCLC 1607025. Retrieved 15 September 2021 – via JSTOR.
  5. ^ Versteegh, C.H.M.; van Dam, N.; Zürcher, E.J.; Peters, R.; Motzki, H.; Berserik, Françoise; de Jong, Teus; Beets, Nij; Pel, Henk, eds. (19 June 2000). "Chapter Six: Escalation (May 1983-June 1984)" (PDF). The battle for South Lebanon: The radicalization of Lebanon's Shi'ites 1982-1985. Rabdoub University Faculty of Social Sciences (Doctoral thesis (PhD in letters)) (in English and Dutch). Nijmegen, Gelderland, Netherlands: Radboud University (Radboud Universiteit)/Uitgeverij Bulaaq (Bulaaq Publishers). pp. 197–246. OCLC 742181947. Retrieved 14 September 2021 – via Radboud Repository (Radboud University).
  6. ^ Salem, Elie (31 December 1994). Violence and Diplomacy in Lebanon: The Troubled Years, 1982-1988. Bloomsbury Modern History/I.B. Tauris General Middle East History (1st ed.). London, England, United Kingdom of Great Britain: Bloomsbury Publishing/I.B. Tauris. doi:10.5040/9780755612109. ISBN 978-1850438359.
  7. ^ Lerner, K. Lee; Lerner, Brenda Wilmoth; et al. (Design and pictures by Dean Dauphinais, Leitha Etheridge-Sims, Mary K. Grimes, Lezlie Light, Luke Rademacher, Kate Scheible; printing by Rhnonda Williams) (2003) [2004]. "Chapter 3. Chronology". In Cusack, Stephen; Scheible, Kate; Bealmar, Erin; Cerrito, Joan; Craddock, Jim; Schwartz, Carol; Tomassini, Christine; Tyrkus, Michael J.; Gareffa, Peter (eds.). 1984 (entry 7). Gale Group. Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence, and Security. Gale virtual reference library. Vol. 3 (2nd ed.). Detroit, Michigan, United States of America: (Thomson Corporation). p. 341. ISBN 978-0787675462. LCCN 2003011097. Retrieved 11 September 2021 – via Internet Archive.
  8. ^ Woodward, Bob; Babcock, Charles R. (November 25, 1986). Graham, Donald E.; Bradlee, Ben (eds.). "William Buckley Murdered: Captive CIA Agent's Death Galvanized Hostage Search". Washington Post. Washington, D.C., United States of America. ISSN 0190-8286. OCLC 2269358. Archived from the original on March 29, 2015. Retrieved January 19, 2015.(subscription required)
  9. ^ Higgins, Robin L. (2000) [1999]. Côté, Richard N. (ed.). Patriot Dreams: The Murder of Colonel Rich Higgins, USMC (2nd ed.). Quantico, Virginia, United States of America: Hellgate Press/The Marine Corps Association. ISBN 9781555715274.
  10. ^ The Associated Press (AP) (18 February 1988). Written at Beirut, Lebanon. Craig Jr., John G.; Block, William; Deibler, William E.; Merriman, Woodene; Michelmore, David; Pett-Ridge, Christopher; Thomas, Clarke (eds.). "Gunmen in Lebanon grab Marine officer". Main section. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Vol. 61, no. 173. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States of America: PG Publishing Co. The Associated Press (AP). Retrieved 15 September 2021 – via Google Books.
  11. ^ Bethanne Kelly Patrick. "Col. William R. 'Rich' Higgins: Spirit Of Murdered Marine Leader Lives On In USS Higgins". Retrieved 2006-11-28.
  12. ^ Scheffer, David J. (17 August 1989). Graham, Donald E.; Brownie Jr., Leonard (eds.). "The U.N. has no 'complicity with evil'". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C., United States of America. ISSN 0190-8286. OCLC 2269358. Retrieved 15 September 2021.
  13. ^ United Nations Security Council (29 July 1988). "United Nations Security Council Resolution 618" (PDF). United Nations Security Council (Meeting no. 2822) (United Nations Security Council Resolution). New York City, New York, United States of America: United Nations. S/RES/618. Retrieved 15 September 2021.
  14. ^ "Security Council demands immediate release of UN peace-keeper — Lt.-Col. William R. Higgins". United Nations Department of Global Communications. UN Chronicle. 25 (4). New York City, New York, United States of America: United Nations. 1 December 1988 – via vLex.
  15. ^ Digilio, Alice (21 February 1988). Graham, Donald E.; Brownie Jr., Leonard (eds.). "Abduction of friend's father brings Lebanese turmoil close to VA. students". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C., United States of America. ISSN 0190-8286. OCLC 2269358. Retrieved 15 September 2021.
  16. ^ a b c d e The Associated Press (AP) (22 April 1988). Written at Beirut, Lebanon. Brooks, W. Paul; Mathes, Mark; Watts, Bernard; Cook, David; King, Keith; Roberts, Billy; Garris, Thomas C.; O'Sullivan, John; Beers, Cherie; McKenzie, Jay (eds.). "Kidnappers will 'try' Higgins". Main section. Ocala Star-Banner. Vol. 43 (Year 122), no. 237. Ocala, Florida, United States of America: New York Times Company. The Associated Press (AP). p. 3A. Retrieved 15 September 2021 – via Google News.
  17. ^ a b Kenaan, Rodeina (22 December 1991). Written at Beirut, Lebanon. Swartz, Steven R. (ed.). "Body Taken to Hospital Morgue Might Be Higgins". The Associated Press (AP). New York City, New York, United States of America. Retrieved 16 September 2021.[permanent dead link]
  18. ^ a b c Hijazi, Ihsan A. (1 August 1989). Written at Beirut, Lebanon. Sulzberger Sr., Arthur Ochs; Sulzberger Jr., Arthur Ochs (eds.). "Group in Beirut says it hanged U.S. Colonel; 2d threat issued; Bush convenes security panel; videotape released". Main section. The New York Times. Vol. CXXXVIII, no. 152. New York City, New York, United States of America. p. A1. ISSN 0362-4331. OCLC 1645522. Retrieved 15 September 2021.
  19. ^ United Press International (UPI) (31 July 1989). Written at Beirut, Lebanon. Coffey III, Charles Shelby; Thomas, William F. (eds.). "Col. Higgins Was Hanged, Shiites Say; Bush Outraged: Another Hostage Threatened". Los Angeles Times. L.A. Times archives. Los Angeles, California, United States of America. United Press International. ISSN 0458-3035. OCLC 3638237. Archived from the original on 7 October 2020. Retrieved 15 September 2021.
  20. ^ Kahwaji, Riad (30 July 1989). Written at Beirut, Lebanon. Swartz, Steven R. (ed.). "American Hostage's Life Threatened in Retaliation for Israeli Kidnapping". The Associated Press (AP). New York City, New York, United States of America. Retrieved 16 September 2021.[permanent dead link]
  21. ^ Middle East International No 356, 4 August 1989, Publishers Lord Mayhew, Dennis Walters MP; Jim Muir pp.3,4
  22. ^ McNulty, Timothy J. (8 August 1989). Written at Washington, D.C., United States of America. Fuller, Jack (ed.). "FBI: Higgins most likely is hanged man". Chicago Tribune. Chicago, Illinois, United States of America: Tribune Publishing Company. ISSN 1085-6706. OCLC 7960243. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  23. ^ a b Kenaan, Rodeina (23 December 1991). Written at Beirut, Lebanon. Quier, Myrtle B.; Flippin, William S.; Flippin, James C.; Gannon, Thomas A.; Orkus, Larry R.; Gallagher, Charles M.; Schultz, Edward J.; Davis, Donald P. (eds.). "Body identified as U.S. hostage". Main section. Reading Eagle. Vol. 123, no. 330. Reading, Pennsylvania, United States of America: Reading Eagle Company. The Associated Press (AP). p. A1. Retrieved 15 September 2021 – via Google Books.
  24. ^ a b c The Associated Press (AP) (24 December 1991). Written at Louisville, Kentucky, United States of America. McEachran, Angus; Manis, Jimmy E.; Ross, Madelyn; Baumann, J. Bruce; Royhav, Ron; Griffin, Barbara J.; Shrensky, Isadore (eds.). "Their hopes dashed, ordeal finally ends for Higgins family". National news section. The Pittsburgh Press. Vol. 108, no. 182. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States of America: Scripps Howard. The Associated Press (AP). p. A4. Retrieved 15 September 2021 – via Google Books.
  25. ^ Bergman, Ronen (2009). Alterman, Shahar (ed.). By Any Means Necessary (in Hebrew) (2011 ed.). Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Dvir. pp. 176–179. ISBN 978-965-552-175-7.
  26. ^ "Lebanon—UNOGIL". United Nations Peacekeeping Missions. United Nations. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  27. ^ The Associated Press (AP) (23 December 1991). Written at Beirut, Lebanon. Warren, Richard J.; Bishop, John P.; Stairs, Robert W.; Barnard, William P.; Hayes, James P. (eds.). "Body found in Lebanon might be remains of slain American hostage". Main section. Bangor Daily News. Vol. 103, no. 155. Bangor, Maine, United States of America: Bangor Publishing Company. The Associated Press (AP). p. 5. Retrieved 15 September 2021 – via Google Books.
  28. ^ Giandomenico Picco, Man Without a Gun, Times Books, New York (1999)
  29. ^ Masters, Brooke A.; Naughton, James; Brown, DeNeen L. (31 December 1991). Graham, Donald E.; Brownie Jr., Leonard (eds.). "2 slain hostages buried as heroes". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C., United States of America. ISSN 0190-8286. OCLC 2269358. Retrieved 15 September 2021.
  30. ^ Ranstorp, Magnus; et al. (Foreword by Terry Waite) (1 August 2006) [1997]. "Eight Phase: April 1989-April 1991 (The Abduction of Foreigners by the Hizb'allah) [Chapter 3. Hizb'allah and the Hostage-Crisis within Lebanon]". Hizb'allah in Lebanon: The Politics of the Western Hostage Crisis (3rd ed.). New York City, New York, United States of America: St. Martin's Press. p. 107. doi:10.1057/9780230377509. ISBN 9780333684016. LCCN 96020970. OCLC 1004388330 – via Internet Archive.
  31. ^ Skinner, Jerome L. Durst, Jacob; Luke, Hannah; Williams, Taylor; Couch, Bryce; Nielson, Elizabeth I.; Maldonado, Kathrine; Rimann, Courtney (eds.). "An American Civil Law Response to International Terror" (PDF). SMU Dedman School of Law. Journal of Air Law and Commerce. 69 (3). Dallas, Texas, United States of America: Southern Methodist University: 545–560 – via SMU Scholar (SMU Libraries/SMU Office of Research and Graduate Studies/SMU Office of Information Technology)
    F. Higgins v. Islamic Republic of Iran [IV. Suits for acts committed in foreign states: Anti-Terrorism Act of 1990, as amended, 18 U.S.C. § 2333]
    ((cite journal)): CS1 maint: postscript (link)[permanent dead link]
  32. ^ 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]
  33. ^ Sterner, Doug. Tilghman, Andrew; Altman, Howard; Steinhafel, David (eds.). "William Richard Higgins". Hall of Valor. Military Times. Vienna, Virginia, United States of America: Sightline Media Group. ID:33775. Archived from the original on 19 September 2020. Retrieved 15 September 2021.

Further reading

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William R. Higgins
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