Marguerite Higgins

Marguerite Higgins

Marguerite Higgins was born in Hong Kong on 3rd September, 1920. Her father, Lawrence Higgins, an American working at a shipping company, moved the family back to the United States in 1923.

Higgins was educated at the University of California. In her first year she worked on the student newspaper, The Daily Californian. After Higgins graduated in 1941, she moved to Columbia University where she completed a masters degree in journalism.

In 1942 Higgins was hired by the New York Tribune. Higgins wanted to report the war in Europe but it was not until 1944 that her editor agreed to send her to London. The following year she moved to mainland Europe, first reporting the war from France and later in Germany. This included accompanying Allied troops when they entered the Nazi extermination camps of Dachau and Buchenwald. She later wrote: "With a shell whistling at you there is not much time to pretend, and a person's qualities are starkly revealed. You believe that you can trust what you have seen. It is a feeling that makes old soldiers, old sailors, old airman and even old war correspondents, humanly close in a way shut off to people who have not shared the same thing."

After the war and covered the Nuremberg War Trials and the growing tension between west and eastern Europe for the New York Tribune. In 1947 Higgins was promoted to bureau chief in Berlin. In 1950 Higgins was assigned to Japan where she became the newspaper's Far East bureau chief. On the outbreak of the Korean War, Higgins moved to South Korea where she reported the the fall of the capital, Seoul, to North Korean forces. In War in Korea: A Woman Combat Correspondent (1951) she wrote: "So long as our government requires the backing of an aroused and informed public opinion it is necessary to tell the hard bruising truth. It is best to tell graphically the moments of desperation and horror endured by an unprepared army, so that the American public will demand that it does not happen again."

The New York Tribune sent their top war reporter, Homer Bigart, to South Korea and ordered Higgins to return to Tokyo. Higgins refused to go and continued to compete with Bigart to get the best stories. This became more difficult when all women reporters were banned from the front-line. Higgins was furious but was eventually able to persuade General Douglas MacArthur to allow her to resume her front-line reporting.

Higgins, who was with the Marines when they landed in Inchon, 200 miles behind the North Korean lines, on 15th September, 1950, soon established herself as an outstanding war journalist. Her more personal style of reporting the war was popular with the American public. In October, 1950, Higgins was the subject of an article in Life Magazine.

In 1951, her book, War in Korea: A Woman Combat Correspondent, became a best-seller. That year she won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting and was voted Woman of the Year by the Associated Press news organization.

Higgins was sent to Vietnam in 1953 where she reported the defeat of the French Army at Dien Bein Phu. During the fighting she narrowly escaped injury when while walking alongside the photographer, Robert Capra, he was killed when he stepped on a land mine. In 1955 she travelled extensively in the Soviet Union and afterwards published her book Red Plush and Black Bread (1955). This was followed by another book on journalism, News is a Singular Thing (1955). Higgins also covered the civil war in the Congo.

Higgins made many visits to Vietnam and her book Our Vietnam Nightmare (1965), documented her concerns about United States military involvement in the region. While in Vietnam in 1965 she went down with leishmaniasis, a tropical disease. Marguerite Higgins was brought back to the United States but died on 3rd January, 1966. In recognition of her outstanding war reporting she was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Primary Sources

(1) Marguerite Higgins, New York Tribune (18th September, 1950)

Heavily laden U.S. Marines, is one of the most technically difficult amphibious landings in history, stormed at sunset today over a ten-foot sea wall in the heart of the port of Inchon and within an hour had taken three commanding hills in the city.

I was in the fifth wave that hit "Red Beach," which in reality was a rough, vertical pile of stones over which the first assault troops had to scramble with the aid of improvised landing ladders topped with steel hooks.

Despite a deadly and steady pounding from naval guns and airplanes, enough North Koreans remained alive close to the beach to harass us with small-arms and mortar fire. They even hurled hand grenades down at us as we crouched in trenches, which unfortunately ran behind the sea wall in the inland side.

It was far from the "virtually unopposed" landing for which the troops had hoped after hearing of the quick capture of Wolmi Island in the morning by an earlier Marine assault. Wolmi is inside Inchon harbor and just off "Red Beach." At H-hour minus seventy, confident, joking Marines started climbing down from the transport ship on cargo nest and dropping into small assault boats. Our wave commander. Lieutenant R. J. Schening, a veteran of five amphibious assaults, including Guadalcanal, hailed me with the comment, "This has a good chance of being a pushover."

Because of tricky tides, our transport had to stand down the channel and it was more than nine miles to the rendezvous point where our assault waves formed up.

The channel reverberated with the ear-splitting boom of warship guns and rockets. Blue and orange flames spurted from the "Red Beach" area and a huge oil tank, on fire, sent great black rings of smoke over the shore. Then the fire from the big guns lifted and the planes that had been circling overhead swooped low to rake their fire deep into the sea wall.

The first wave of our assault troops was speeding toward the shore by now. It would be H-hour (5:30 P.M.) in two minutes. Suddenly, bright-orange tracer bullets spun out from the hill in our direction.

"My God! There are still some left," Lieutenant Schening said. "Everybody get down. Here we go!"

It was H-hour plus fifteen minutes as we sped the last two thousand yards to the beach. About halfway there the bright tracers started cutting across the top of our little boat. "Look at their faces now," said John Davies of the Newark News. I turned and saw that the men around me had expressions contorted with anxiety.

We struck the sea wall hard at a place where it had crumbled into a canyon. The bullets were whining persistently, spattering the water around us. We clambered over the high steel sides of the boat, dropping into the water and, taking shelter beside the boat as long as we could, snaked on our stomachs up into a rock-strewn dip in the sea wall.

In the sky there was good news. A bright, white star shell from the high ground to our left and an amber cluster told us that the first wave had taken their initial objective, Observatory Hill. But whatever the luck of the first four waves, we were relentlessly pinned down by rifle and automatic-weapon fire coming down on us from another rise on the right.

There were some thirty Marines and two correspondents crouched in the gouged-out sea wall. Then another assault boat swept up, disgorging about thirty more Marines. This went on for two more waves until our hole was filled and Marines lying on their stomachs were strung out all across the top of the sea wall.

(2) Marguerite Higgins, War in Korea: A Woman Combat Correspondent (1951)

So long as our government requires the backing of an aroused and informed public opinion it is necessary to tell the hard bruising truth. It is best to tell graphically the moments of desperation and horror endured by an unprepared army, so that the American public will demand that it does not happen again.

(3) Marguerite Higgins, War in Korea: A Woman Combat Correspondent (1951)

I met the Eighth Army commander. Lieutenant General Walton H. Walker, for the first time when I returned to the front in mid-July after MacArthur had lifted the ban on women correspondents in Korea. General Walker was a short, stubby man of bulldog expression and defiant stance. I wondered if he were trying to imitate the late General George Patton, under whom he served in World War II as a corps commander.

General Walker was very correct and absolutely frank with me. He said he still felt that the front was no place for a woman, but that orders were orders and that from now on I could be assured of absolutely equal treatment.

"If something had happened to you, an American woman," the general explained, "I would have gotten a terrible press. The American public might never have forgiven me. So please be careful and don't get yourself killed or captured."

General Walker kept his promise of equal treatment, and from then on, so far as the United States Army was concerned, I went about my job with no more hindrance than the men.

(4) Marguerite Higgins, War in Korea: A Woman Combat Correspondent (1951)

Despite large-scale reinforcements, our troops were still falling back fast. Our lines made a large semicircle around the city of Taegu. The main pressure at that time was from the northwest down the Taejon-Taegu road. But a new menace was developing with frightening rapidity way to the southwest. For the Reds, making a huge arc around our outnumbered troops, were sending spearheads to the south coast of Korea hundreds of miles to our rear. They hoped to strike along the coast at Pusan, the vital port through which most of our supplies funneled.

It was at this time that General Walker issued his famous "stand or die" order. The 1st Cavalry 25th Division were freshly arrived. Like 24th Division before them, the new outfits had to learn for themselves how to cope with this Indian-style warfare for which they were so unprepared. Their soldiers were not yet battle-toughened. Taking into account the overwhelming odds, some front-line generals worried about the performance of their men and told us so privately.

(5) Marguerite Higgins, War in Korea: A Woman Combat Correspondent (1951)

A reconnaissance officer came to the improvised command post and reported that the soldiers landing on the coast were not a new enemy force to overwhelm us, but South Korean allies.

On the hill, soldiers were silencing some of the enemy fire. It was now seven forty-five. It did not seem possible that so much could have happened since the enemy had struck three quarters of an hour before.

As the intensity of fire slackened slightly, soldiers started bringing in the wounded from the hills, carrying them on their backs. I walked over to the aid station. The mortars had been set up right next to the medic's end of the schoolhouse. The guns provided a nerve-racking accompaniment for the doctors and first-aid men as they ministered to the wounded. Bullets were still striking this end of the building, and both doctors and wounded had to keep low to avoid being hit. Because of the sudden rush of casualties, all hands were frantically busy.

One medic was running short of plasma but did not dare leave his patients long enough to try to round up some more. I offered to administer the remaining plasma and passed about an hour there, helping out as best I could.

My most vivid memory of the hour is Captain Logan Weston limping into the station with a wound in his leg. He was patched up and promptly turned around and headed for the hills again. Half an hour later he was back with bullets in his shoulder and chest. Sitting on the floor smoking a cigarette, the captain calmly remarked, "I guess I'd better get a shot of morphine now. These last two are beginning to hurt."

(6) Marguerite Higgins, War in Korea: A Woman Combat Correspondent (1951)

With a shell whistling at you there is not much time to pretend, and a person's qualities are starkly revealed. You believe that you can trust what you have seen. It is a feeling that makes old soldiers, old sailors, old airman and even old war correspondents, humanly close in a way shut off to people who have not shared the same thing.