Mother of fallen Marine pursues memorial effort

Debbie Higgins points to the proposed layout for a National Fallen Heroes Memorial she plans to build off U.S. 15 north of Frederick. (Frederick News-Post/Adam Fried)

Deborah Higgins lost her son to the Iraq War six years ago. Now she’s fighting her own war to memorialize him.

While Marine Lance Cpl. James Higgins was stationed overseas, he and his mother often discussed a lack of proper recognition for troops.

“Why did they have to wait so long to be recognized?” he often asked her about veterans who died before they saw their own war memorial.

From James’ drawings and conversations, in 2007 Debbie Higgins began researching and planning for the National Fallen Heroes Memorial.

“This whole thing was his idea,” Higgins said. “I just picked it up and took it forward.”

The planned $120 million memorial has not been an easy project for the working mother to take on, but Higgins said she won’t give up until she sees her son’s vision come to fruition.

According to Higgins’ computer-generated design, a museum complex, statues and five walls representing the military branches will sit on 18 acres across U.S. 15 from Resthaven Memorial Gardens just north of Frederick. An additional 35 acres is meant for military burials.

The building would house a museum, counseling center and events compound. Constructed from metal and glass, the facade would be designed to resemble a giant American flag.

“It’s for the young to learn, for the weak to admire, for the old to remember,” Higgins said of the proposed memorial. “It’s for everybody.”

For years, drivers on U.S. 15 have passed the “future home of” sign, which is in a pasture.

Higgins said she hoped to organize a ceremonial groundbreaking sometime this year. She said she expected construction to begin in about two years. She said she hoped the memorial could be completed within 10 years.

Through fundraisers, Higgins has collected more than $700,000 for the memorial fund, but she is still looking for more donations, as well as possible grants for the 501(c)(3) National Fallen Heroes Memorial organization.

Though she wanted to raise close to $2 million by now, Higgins is staying ahead of her expected timeline. She is now preparing for the project’s second phase — constructing the building and parking lot.

Once the museum is built, she said she hoped it would encourage contributions.

“I’m not asking for people to hand out millions,” Higgins said. “I will take whatever help (I can get).”

Higgins’ efforts focus on veterans killed since the Vietnam War, as well as first responders such as law enforcement officers, firefighters and paramedics.

Fallen veterans should be “memorialized as if they are kings and queens of the world,” Higgins said.

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