Family mourns fallen Marine

Thurmont man remembered for his patriotism

August 01, 2006|By NICOLE FULLER | NICOLE FULLER,SUN REPORTER

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 Pennsylvania.

"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 said.

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."

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

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