Merle Robert Higgins
From the introduction of American troops in Vietnam, much of the battle was fought in Tay Ninh Province to the Northwest of Saigon. It was the end of the infiltration routes from Cambodia into the Saigon area. In March 1969, it was still 'hot' in that area.
Since January 1969, the 25th Division's focus was to preempt the enemy's planned Winter-Spring Offensive and any new offensive actions in the Tay Ninh Province. The plan was to hit them in their staging areas with heavy pressure from infantry, rapid reaction to contact, and massive firepower in every instance. Tay Ninh was pinpointed as the major battle field in the enemy's next offensive.
During June 1969, the enemy launched a series of attacks which constituted the second phase of their Summer Offensive. The main thrust of their attacks centered in Tay Ninh Province, the 1st Brigade 25th Infantry Division's area of operations. The 9th VC/NVA Division moved to take Tay Ninh City in order to seize and hold a portion of it in order to announce the establishment of Tay Ninh City as the capital of the National Liberation Front (NLF) Provisional government. The enemy also hoped to show the local villagers that allied forces could not protect them.
The attack on Tay Ninh City came after the enemy had scouted the U.S. and ARVN installations while avoiding contact. On 5 June, the enemy began their offensive from the northwest, southwest, south and east of the city. The 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry, airlifted in at 0550 hours, intercepted them in the Renegade Woods. Four Americans were killed and 14 wounded with a loss of 45 enemy soldiers in the Renegade Woods contact and another killed in an early morning ground attack at LZ Stoneman, 12 kilometers south-southeast of Tay Ninh City. The U.S men killed during the contacts were:
Sgt. Higgins was born in Farmdale, Ohio. At the end of 5th grade, the family relocated to Jamestown, Pennsylvania. After graduating from Pymatuning Joint High School in 1965, he attended Thiel College before entering the army.
He began his tour in Vietnam on January 5, 1969. Five months to the day later, he was killed during an attack on LZ Stoneman (Grid XT303371), located 12 kilometers S-SE of Tay Ninh City, Tay Ninh Province, Republic of Vietnam.
It started when Charlie Company reported Viet Cong (VC) in the bunker line; ...Alpha Company reports that farmers in area said three VC companies moved out of Cambodia at 0300 hours into the Renegade Woods. Delta Company reported receiving small arms and RPG fire. Dust-off "163" completed with 14 Delta Company wounded in action.
SGT Higgins was seriously wounded by a claymore mine that was detonated by a sniper. A claymore mine is a curved rectangular mine, about 8.5 inches wide by five inches high, that projects about 700 steel balls in an arc of about 60 degrees. It produces "multiple fragmentation wounds." His death certificate indicates he was killed by a penetration wound to the neck and his death was instantaneous.
After his parents were notified, local area newspapers published similar announcements as this one: WASHINGTON (AP) - Three Pennsylvanians were named Tuesday by the Defense Department as having died in the Vietnam War. Two were killed in action: Army Sgt. Merle R. Higgins, son of Mr. and Mrs. Ellis R. Higgins of Jamestown, and Army Sp4 Robert P. Ruttle Jr., husband of Mrs. Joanne B. Ruttle of Hatboro. Marine Pfc. Robert Drak, son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry A. Drak of Pittsburgh, died not as a result of hostile action.
SGT Higgins was survived by his parents, Ruth Anderson Higgins and Ellis R. Higgins, and two sisters, Marian and Nelly. His parents were buried with him at Rocky Glen Cemetery, Crawford County, Pennsylvania when they passed away.
In the spring of 1992, his family established the "Merle R. Higgins Freedom Award" fund at Jamestown High School, not only to honor Merle, but also to remind people that freedom is not a cheap commodity. lt is a fragile ideal that only exists because of the suffering and sacrifice of brave men and women. This award is given annually to two deserving seniors (one male/one female) based on the character qualities of courage, honor, loyalty, determination and service.
Sgt. Higgins was the first of two Jamestown High School soldiers to die in Vietnam within a two-month period.
- - The Virtual Wall, Ocgtober 01, 2014
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