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Rich Higgins was "a Marine through and through," says his wife, retired Lt. Col. Robin Higgins.
Col. William R. 'Rich' Higgins

Spirit Of Murdered Marine Leader Lives On In USS Higgins

When Marine Corps Lt. Col. William R. "Rich" Higgins arrived in Lebanon as part of a U.N. peacekeeping mission in the summer of 1987, Canadian Maj. Vern McKeen offered him an adhesive Canadian flag to place over the Stars and Stripes on his uniform. Higgins turned him down. "I can almost visualize Rich saying something like, 'If I get into trouble, then I'll do it as an American,' " said his widow, retired Marine Lt. Col. Robin Higgins. "He had served in the military for 22 years. He was a Marine through and through."

By all accounts, Higgins was a respected officer whose quiet air of authority endeared him to his men, including those in his Vietnam rifle platoon who called themselves "Higgins' Heroes." He was on what might have been the last tour of duty in a 20-plus-years career when he began his assignment in Beirut. Instead, it became the last year of his life. On Feb. 17, 1988, Higgins was driving on a coastal highway between Tyre and Naquora in southern Lebanon when he was pulled from his jeep by Iranian-backed terrorists.

About a year later, his kidnappers released a scratchy videotape of a bound and gagged Higgins dangling from a rope on a makeshift gallows. While the timing suggested his death might have been in retaliation for Israel's kidnapping of a Shiite sheik from South Lebanon, Pentagon officials concluded Higgins probably died earlier. He was declared dead on July 6, 1990, and his remains were dumped on a dusty street in Beirut on Dec. 23, 1991 -- the day he and his wife would have celebrated their 14th wedding anniversary.

"People should remember that those things we call 'peacekeeping operations' are not without risk ... [service members] are going into harm's way for this country," said Robin Higgins, who later wrote of the ordeal in the book "Patriot Dreams: The Murder of Col. Rich Higgins."

Rich Higgins was promoted to full colonel in 1989, although he may never have known it. In 1992, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Citizens' Medal. On April 24, 1999, the Navy commissioned a new Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, the USS Higgins, named in his honor.

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