Nephew's research brings World War II veteran's story to life

May 29, 2010|By ANDREW SCHOTZ
  • Craig Higgins holds a photo of his uncle, Russell L. Higgins. Craig Higgins conducted extensive research about his uncle's death in World War II.
By Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Craig Higgins of Big Pool said his family, for decades, knew frustratingly little about his uncle's death in World War II.

Then, Higgins dug in and uncovered reams of information about the military service of Russell L. Higgins, who was 32 years old when he died in France in 1944.

Craig Higgins now has a binder filled with copies of pictures, maps, documents and news clippings, creating a clear, thorough story.

"This book of research is in tribute to Uncle Russell L. Higgins and all the veterans of WWII," Craig Higgins, 48, wrote on an introductory page.

He remembers asking about his uncle's service while growing up. Relatives knew the date he died and that he went for basic training at Camp Blanding, Fla., but little else.


His grave was marked "9th Infantry."

In August 2009, Higgins started looking for more details. He found information about the 9th Infantry Division, but nothing about his uncle.

Higgins almost gave up in December 2009.

A break came a few months later. Higgins said he found out about records called "morning reports," daily summaries that military units kept.

Those reports were on microfilm at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, where a 1973 fire destroyed millions of files.

Higgins hired a researcher to do the legwork for him. For $116, he had a stack of records.

A key was figuring out that "9th Infantry," listed on the grave, referred to the Regiment, within the 2nd Infantry Division.

The researcher found Russell Higgins's name and serial number, unlocking other doors to data.

Another rich source of information was the Deceased Personnel Files kept in Alexandria, Va.

Military records also are stored at the National Archives at College Park in Maryland.

Over the months, Craig Higgins collected many pieces that tell the story of his uncle's service and his death.

They trace Russell Higgins' movements from Jan. 8 through June 27 of 1944.

The records pick up again on Aug. 8. They run through his death on Aug. 24 and into October 1944, when his body came back to the United States. His grave is at the Blairs Valley First Church of God.

Russell Higgins was in combat for 17 days. He died during the Battle for Brest.

His family didn't find out for several weeks. An obituary was dated Sept. 25.

Craig Higgins plans to share what he uncovered during an annual Blairs Valley family picnic. He said Russell Higgins's last surviving child, who lives in Texas and has mementos of his father's military service, might be there.

"After doing this project," Craig Higgins wrote, "I can truly see why they were called the greatest generation.

Russell Higgins had a home, a job, a wife and children, but "when called left it all to go thru basic, take a trip into the unknown, be placed with a group of men in combat and in 17 days to be killed in action."

"I should have done this ten years ago," Craig Higgins wrote, "but I don't think as much info that I found was available then, so enjoy the material. Some is sad but the truth is now known what Russell went through that year in history."

Craig Higgins said he'd like to hear more about his uncle, Russell L. Higgins, and the 2nd Infantry Division from anyone who might have served with him or from their families. He can be reached at 301-842-2744.

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