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Another local serviceman killed in Iraq

James Rada
Thurmont Dispatch

(8/8) Marine Lance Cpl. James Willard Higgins Jr. always wanted to earn his wings. He wanted to fly jets in the United States Air Force. When he served in the Civil Air Patrol, he was considered a natural-born flyer.

"He said flying was peaceful and like being a bird in the sky," said Higgins' mother, Deborah.

Higgins wanted to attend the Air Force Academy, but he wasn't sure he could get in the year he was ready to join the military. His desire to serve overrode his desire to fly. Higgins joined the Marines in April 2005.

He served his country for 15 months and last week, he finally earned his wings. Only they were angel wings.

Higgins, 22, was killed Thursday, July 27 in the Al Anbar province of Iraq. He was shot in the chest while providing security. Despite being flown to a surgical treatment center, he died at 12:50 p.m.

Deborah learned of her son's death that evening. She was at her sister's house when friends called to tell her Marines were at the house to speak with her.

"I knew the protocol, but I just didn't want to believe it. I was in denial. I kept thinking maybe they're just going to tell me he can't come home, but when they asked me if I wanted to sit down, I knew," she said.

Higgins was scheduled to be home in Thurmont on Aug. 26. Deborah and her other two children, Joseph and Melinda, were going to fly to California to meet him on his return from Iraq from Aug. 14-19.

Higgins served with the Weapons Company 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division in Iraq since January. He received the Iraq Campaign Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, the Combat Action Ribbon and the Purple Heart.

"He was very proud to be a Marine. When he was 11, he wanted a flag for his birthday. He made sure to raise it every morning at 6 a.m.," Deborah said.

Higgins graduated from Catoctin High School in 2003. Athletic Director Tom Sherald knew Higgins as a student and football player all through his high school years. "James was very serious, polite, extremely disciplined, clean cut and an all-around good kid. The qualities that made him a valuable asset to his team and school would have also made him valuable to the military."

Deborah wrote a note in her son's yearbook when he graduated, telling him that she was honored to be chosen to be his mother.

"He loved life. He loved being silly. He loved making people laugh," Deborah said.

The last time she spoke with her son was when they talked by phone for two hours on Sunday, July 23.

"He talked about how he loved his family and how he was looking forward to seeing us," Deborah said. He also told her, "Mom, if something happens to me, make sure I'm remembered."

Higgins' father is James Higgins Sr. of Elizabethtown, Pa.

Higgins' funeral will be at 11 a.m. at the Lynfield Events Complex at 10142 Hansonville Road in Frederick. He will be buried with full military honors at Resthaven Memorial Gardens in Frederick.

A benefit fund has been established in Higgins' name at the M&T Bank in Francis Scott Key Mall. Proceeds will be given to the Catoctin High football program and the college expenses of Higgins' brother and sister.

Higgins is the third local serviceman to die in Iraq. Robert Seidel III died on May 18, 2006 and Erik Hayes died on Nov. 29, 2004.

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