Early Life and Joining the Marines

Landing on Guadalcanal and Rations

The Death of Captain Haldane

Guadalcanal

The Goettge Patrol

Peleliu and Malaria

Going Home and Japanese Tactics

Joining the Marines and Pearl Harbor

A Lucky Shot

Reflections

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Richard Higgins was born in Arlington, Massachusetts in Sims Hospital. Higgins moved to Harrison, Maine when he was three years old. Higgins was married once and has four children, two boys and two girls. Higgins did not go to high school. Graduated grammar school and joined the Marine Corps to avoid a life chopping wood. The Marine Corps was quite a surprise for a country boy. Higgins joined K Company [Annotator's Note: Company K, 3rd Battalion 5th Marine Regiment 1st Marine Division] in January 1940 and left K Company in 1944 as a sergeant. He believes it was a good, but rough life. Higgins lost a lot of friends. The biggest thing that ever happened to Higgins was crossing the airfield at Peleliu. He was scared to death. The second thing that scared him to death was when his commanding officer, Captain Haldane, was killed right beside him. Haldane’s death took the wind out of many men in the company. Higgins believes that Haldane was one of the best men he has ever known. He first met him in Australia. They were hiking up a road carrying a 60 mm mortar base. Captain Haldane volunteered to carry it for him. He asked Higgins where he was from and when Higgins replied that he was from Harrison, Maine Haldane was shocked. Haldane had gone to Bridgton Academy in Maine. Higgins believes that every man in the company would have followed Haldane anywhere. Higgins felt closer to Haldane then the others in the company because he was with him more. One day on Cape Gloucester Higgins was standing next to Haldane and Colonel Hunt when a Japanese mortar round hit the tractor they were standing next to. When Higgins hit the dirt Col. Hunt looked down at him and told him that he would have been dead if that round had gone off.  The day they crossed the airfield the battalion commander, Col. Hunt, was out there with them running for his life. Higgins respected Hunt a great deal. Higgins remembers seeing Hunt many years later at Camp Lejeune. Col. Hunt still remembered Higgins many years after the war. The colonel was a good man but the captain was somebody that everybody could draw to. Those kind of men are few and far between.

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Richard Higgins occasionally wants to forget what he has seen. Higgins remembers being on Cape Gloucester hiding behind trees with Captain Haldane. Higgins witnessed another soldier hiding behind a tree get shot. Higgins remembered Cape Gloucester as being nothing but mud and water. They had amtraks available then as well. [Annotator's Note: amtrak is a nickname for the Landing Vehicle, Tracked.] The LVTs just got trapped in the mud. Higgins remembers getting green coffee while on Guadalcanal. His wartime service essentially spoiled coffee and rice for him. Higgins and his regiment came over to Guadalcanal on the USS Wakefield. [Annotator's Note: AP-21] They stayed in New Zealand for about six weeks and then they unloaded the ships and reloaded them for combat. Then they traveled to some island to practice a landing operation. After that they went to Guadalcanal. Higgins remembers the island having nice beaches and he landed on the southern side of the island. Higgins remembers hating his company commander, whose name Higgins can't recall. Higgins went to the beach in Higgins boats. All Higgins could think about was getting out of the boat and on to dry land. They spent three or four days on the beach. There was another soldier from Higgins' home town there but they never saw each other. Another of Higgins' friends took part in the Battle of Savo Island. Higgins was never more afraid than he was in Peleliu. It was on Peleliu that Richard Higgins first had 10-in-1 rations. He found them much better than the usual K rations. Higgins remembers once finding a mouse in his stew but he was so hungry it didn't bother him much. He just threw the mouse away and went back to eating. Higgins then talks for a bit about a marine corps veterans group that he belongs to that he notices is steadily growing as more and more Vietnam veterans join.

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Richard Higgins often wonders why he walked away when so many of his friends did not. Higgins knew that Captain Haldane had more to offer the world than he did but Haldane died while Higgins lived. He does not see any reason. The day Haldane died was a disaster for Higgins. He almost lost it. Higgins climbed down off the ridge and told a Marine named Bailey that the captain was dead. Bailey could not believe it. After that the First Sergeant sent Higgins to the sick bay for a couple hours to calm down. Higgins often wonders what goes through people's mind when things like that happen. He does not know what was going through his mind that day but he knows that the captain's death was a blow that Higgins almost did not survive. Haldane was such a good person and always went out of his way to do things for people. Haldane could get brandy but Higgins never knew where it came from. Haldane would give Higgins four small bottles of brandy to give to the staff sergeants. One thing that has bothered Higgins for years is that when he left Peleliu the new company commander, Stumpy Stanley, gave him Captain Haldane's wallet and other personal effects to take them home to Haldane's father. Facing Captain Haldane's father was one of the hardest things he ever had to do. Higgins met Haldane’s sister at a reunion. Years later, Higgins received a letter from Haldane's nephew. The nephew contacted Higgins to learn more about his uncle. The nephew had himself been a commissioned officer in the Marine Corps and was stunned that an officer could have such a positive reputation. The Marine Corps was good for Higgins and his family. The day Haldane was killed they were up on a ridge. They had been told not to stick their heads up because they would likely get their heads shot off but Haldane was not someone that they could what to do. Haldane stuck his head up at the wrong time and was shot. Higgins had Haldane's blood on his jacket for a long time after that. Haldane’s death stuck with Higgins for a long time. Higgins never wanted off of an island [Annotators Note: Peleliu] so bad in his life and he is sure he is not the only one. Sledge [Annotators Note: Eugene Sledge] wrote a lot about K Company and the captain in his book. [Annotator's Note: With the Old Breed on Peleliu and Okinawa.]

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[Annotators Note: Richard Higgins served in the US Marine Corps in Company K, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division and took part in the battles of Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, and Peleliu.] They dug in on the beach at Guadalcanal and just laid down in the sand. Eventually they were marched up the road and crossed the river that ran through the compound. Higgins cannot recall the name of the river that ran through the compound but he does remember the Matanikau. He crossed the Matanikau River several times. One guy in the company that was crazy was a guy named DeLong. Higgins did not know DeLong well as they were in different sections, Higgins was in the mortars and DeLong was in the infantry. They had met each other at Camp Lejeune. They had some wild times in Australia, getting drunk and getting tossed out of bars. The commander of Higgins’s platoon was a guy named Chisholm. Chisholm was a giant of a man. He was able to throw Higgins onto the beach when he was fully laden with gear. Lieutenant Chisholm would often come in and party with the men. They had a great group of guys. Some were better than others. New Guinea was nothing but mud. They were in combat with the Japanese for five or six days during which the Japanese launched repeated banzai charges. Higgins does not remember how many he killed. One night they set their machine guns up right as the Japanese charged. The Marines were all surprised and jumped for their rifles. They were able to kill the attacking Japanese. Higgins cannot describe a banzai charge [Annotators Note: Higgins still seems somewhat stunned by the banzai charges]. Higgins hated the Japanese during the war and admits that his feelings have not changed. The Goettge patrol was a patrol that went out while they were on Guadalcanal [Annotators Note: the patrol was led by Col. Frank Goettge so it was referred to as the Goettge Patrol.] The Marines had captured a Japanese lieutenant who told his captors that there was a contingent of Japanese on the other end of the island who wanted to surrender. A patrol went out to get them. Four days later some of K Company went out in Higgins boats to the where the patrol was supposed to be. They found the bodies of the guys on the Goettge Patrol. No one who saw the carnage has ever forgotten it. Higgins was furious when he found the bodies. He can still see that scene today and it still gives him a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. A lot of good men were lost that day. It did not seem possible to Higgins that human beings could do those things to other human beings. Higgins knows that there was no love lost between his company and the Japanese. Higgins refuses to even describe the scene.

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Richard Higgins was not on Bloody Nose Ridge but he was close it. Another man Higgins had great respect for was Red Mike Edson [Annotators Note: Red Mike is the nickname of Major General Merritt Edson, the commander of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion on Guadalcanal]. Edson later commanded the 5th Marine Regiment. The Marine Raiders and Paratroopers were disbanded after Bloody Nose Ridge. All of the ships that carried the Raiders to Guadalcanal got blown up at Guadalcanal. Higgins had a friend who was killed by a short friendly artillery fire at Cape Gloucester. Another time they were encamped in a ravine not far from a formation of 155mm howitzers. Every time those guns were fired everyone would bounce a foot off of the ground. Even with everything that he saw nothing compared to the run across the airfield [Annotators Note: running across the airfield on Peleliu]. There were probably other times when Higgins was just as scared but he cannot remember them. Higgins could see the Corsairs taking off on bombing runs from the airfield. Peleliu was different than every other battle they fought. They [Annotators Note: the Japanese] were dug in well. Finally the army came in and took over because there was not enough left of the division. There were only 96 men left in Higgins’ company. The 1st Marines [Annotators Note: 1st Marine Regiment] was hit harder than they were. When Higgins and the others left Guadalcanal half of the men could not even climb up the nets to get on the ships. Higgins contracted malaria six times including four or five times while on Guadalcanal. That took a lot out of Higgins. Higgins was put in a hospital in Australia.

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Richard Higgins left Peleliu and went to Pavuvu and got off the ship. The next day a clerk told Higgins that he was going home. He was sergeant of the guard aboard ship the entire way home. Most of the guards aboard ship were Higgins’s men. Higgins landed in San Francisco. He does not even remember the name of the ship. From San Francisco Higgins took a train to New York. From New York Higgins went home to Maine. It was a great trip. Higgins noticed that the fighting style of the Japanese changed quite a bit with each successive island that they landed on. On Guadalcanal they had to cross the Matanikau at least a hundred times and there were always Japs on the other side. Any Japanese armor that tried to cross the river would be blown up by artillery. That artillery was devastating. On Cape Gloucester there were a lot of Japanese. A multiple landings made there to leap frog up the coast. At Peleliu it was just hell. They were thrown back into the Sisters and Brothers a number of times [Annotators Note: Sisters and Brothers were nicknames given to terrain features on Peleliu].

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Richard Higgins joined the Marine Corps in 1940. He was set on the Marine Corps from the beginning. He never considered any of the other branches. His older brother tried to get into the Marine Corps but was denied because of a bad heart. Higgins had a heart murmur and had to get a special waiver from the Commandant of the Marine Corps in order to get in. Higgins is glad that he joined. The Marine Corps and Parris Island changed him more than he could ever believe. It made him a better person. Higgins went back to Parris Island once as a staff NCO. He was sent there to see how the recruits were being trained. He approved of the training. Higgins left the Marines in May 1960 after 19 years, six months, and 26 days in the service. He retired as a Gunnery Sergeant, E6. Higgins was in High Point, North Carolina visiting his cousin Peggy when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He heard about the attack on the radio. Higgins had ridden there with a First Sergeant named Kirkland who had a home up there. Kirkland would charge Higgins five dollars for a ride up there. Higgins eventually acclimated to the extreme heat of the South Pacific. When he returned to New England the cold was a shock to him. During the war Higgins carried a M1 carbine as well as an M1 Garand. The carbine was shot out of his hands on Cape Gloucester. Higgins, the captain, the First Sergeant and a couple of runners were sitting around planning their next move when a shot was fired that went right between two fingers and knocked the carbine from Higgins' hand. Even though it is believed that the weapons, equipment, and food supplies available to the Japanese was far inferior to that of the Americans the Marines still suffered a tremendously high casualty count. Food was a big plus when they could get it. They loved getting aboard ship so they could get something to eat. The first time in his life that Higgins ever ate beans and cornbread for breakfast was aboard the Henderson. [Annotator's Note: USS Henderson (AP1)]

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When Richard Higgins returned to the United States he went to Quantico to drive a truck. He would drive civilians to work. Later on he got into the maintenance section. It was a good life. Looking back, Higgins did a lot of things that he did not want to do just like many others. But it was a growing up period for a kid from out the boonies. Higgins was from a small town and there was nothing there for him [Annotators Note: in Harrison, Maine]. When Higgins returned, the State of Maine gave returning veterans two years of free fishing and hunting licenses. Higgins still has his. Higgins still has one living brother and one living sister. Higgins intended to return to Harrison after the war but had no desire to do the things that he had done before joining the Marines. Higgins believes that it is important that World War II is studied in the future. He believes that there is a lot that has not been told. The problem is getting people to open up. He urges veterans to open up about their experiences. It took quite a bit of time after returning home before Higgins was able to talk about the war. He saw so much that is very difficult to forget. Higgins still wakes up at night with visions of the past that do not go away. Higgins used to reminisce with a friend named T.I. Miller. Higgins and T.I. went to Guantanamo Bay together and were in the same company. Higgins believes that museums like The National WWII Museum are important to help to give a better understanding of what the veterans went through. Higgins believes that killing another man is something one never truly gets over. Higgins has done it and has lost a lot of sleep over it.

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