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First Name: Joseph

Last Name: Collins

Birthplace: Algiers, LA, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Middle Name: Lawton

Date of Birth: 01 May 1896

Date of Death: 12 September 1987

Rank: General

Years Served: 1917 - 1956
Joseph Lawton Collins
'Lightning Joe'

Graduate, U.S. Military Academy, Class of 1917

•  World War I (1914 - 1918)
•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Joseph Lawton 'Lightning Joe' Collins
General, U.S. Army

Joseph Lawton Collins was born on 1 May 1896 in Algiers, LA, the son of an Irish immigrant who had served as a Union drummer boy in the American Civil War. Joseph was the nephew of Martin Behrman, Mayor of New Orleans from 1904-20 and again from 1925 to his death in 1926. Behrman used his influence to get Collins an alternate appointment to the U.S. Military Academy - one that he could only obtain if the first nominee failed his entry examination. In the first example of what Collins called his 'usual Irish luck,' the principle candidate failed and, on 2 June 1913, Collins took his place at West Point. In April 1917, he graduated (35th in his class of 139) and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Infantry. He was assigned to the 22nd Infantry and promoted to First Lieutenant in May 1917 and to temporary Captain in August 1917. However, he didn't reach Europe until after the Armistice ended the World War I.

He attended the Infantry School of Arms at Fort Sill, OK, and served with his regiment at various locations during the years 1917-19. He was promoted to permanent Captain in June 1918 and to temporary Major in September 1918. Collins commanded the 3d Battalion, 22d Infantry in France during 1919, and was Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3, of American Forces in Germany in 1920-21. He reverted to the rank of Captain in 1920. 

During the period 1921-25, he was and Instructor in the Department of Chemistry at West Point. He graduated from the Company Officer Course at the Infantry School, Fort Benning, GA, in 1926; he graduated from the Advanced Course at the Field Artillery School at Fort Sill, in 1927. Collins was an Instructor in Weapons and Tactics at the Infantry School from 1927-31 and was promoted to the permanent rank of Major in August 1932.

Collins was Executive Officer of the 23d Brigade in Manila, and Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, Philippine Division, during 1933-34. He graduated from the Army Industrial College in 1937 and the Army War College in 1938. He was an Instructor at the Army War College from 1938-40, and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in June 1940. Despite his being an instructor at the Army War College, Collins was not considered senior enough to be given command of a regiment in the expanding Army, instead becoming Chief of Staff for VI Corps, based in Birmingham, AL. Collins was promoted to the temporary rank of Colonel in January 1941.

After the 7 December 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, HI, Collins and the VI Corps staff moved to the West Coast, where they were to serve under General John L. DeWitt, but Collins' 'Irish luck' struck again. General Walter C. Short, the senior Army officer at Pearl Harbor, was recalled ten days after the attack and was replaced by Major General H. A. Dargue. Dargue was killed in a plane crash while on his way to Hawaii, and was replaced by General Delos Emmons, while Collins was appointed as the new Chief of Staff of the Hawaiian Department.

On 17 December 1941, Collins reached Hawaii. After five months as Chief of Staff of VI Corps, he was assigned to command the 25th Infantry 'Tropic Lightning' Division, which had been formed around the peacetime Hawaiian Division, and had a poor reputation. Collins was fortunate in that he had six months to improve his new Division before it entered combat on Guadalcanal. He was promoted to the temporary rank of Brigadier General in February 1942; and to temporary Major General in May 1942.

Major General Collins led the 25th Division into combat in early January 1943 when it relieved General Alexander Vandegrift's 1st Marine Division. The 25th Infantry then landed on beaches west of the Tenaru River and took part in a three-division strong offensive that captured Kokumbona and Mt. Austen. In early February, the 161st Infantry, one of the 25th Division's regiments, took part in the final fighting around Cape Esperance that ended the organized Japanese resistance on Guadalcanal.

Collins remained with the 25th Infantry through five months of training on Guadalcanal and during the fight for Munda on New Georgia from July to October 1943. It was during this period in the Pacific that he gained the nickname 'Lightning Joe' from the Divisional HQ's codename - 'Lightning.' 

Despite his impressive performance on Guadalcanal and New Georgia, Gen. Douglas MacArthur didn't think Collins was ready to command a corps. The Army Chief of Staff, Gen. George C. Marshall, disagreed, so Collins' appointment came from the very top when Gen. Marshall recommended that Collins should command VII Corps in the invasion of Europe. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower agreed and, on 19 January 1944, Collins took command of VII Corps.

On D-Day, 6 June 1944, VII Corps was responsible for the landing on Utah Beach, which proved to be the least costly landing of the day. There were two main reasons for this: (1) The Germans believed that the flooded areas behind the beach would discourage the Allies; and (2) the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions caused so much confusion behind German lines that no coherent counterattack ever emerged.

Collins went ashore on D-Day+1. His first objective, to reach the west coast of the Cotentin Peninsula, was achieved on 18 June and his second, the capture of Cherbourg, on 27 June. Collins' VII Corps then turned south to take part in Operation Cobra, the breakout from the Normandy beachhead. The VII Corps is best-known for the leading role it played in Operation Cobra; less well known is Collins' contribution to that plan. The Americans hoped that the heavy air bombardment that preceded the ground attack would mean little resistance, but when they ran into more resistance than had been expected, the general feeling was that the attack had failed. One intelligence officer realized that the Germans had no reserves behind the thin front line, and he convinced Collins to risk launching his armored attack despite the infantry's failure to reach the planned starting point for the tanks. Collins' gamble succeeded, and his tanks led the Allied breakthrough on the German left flank that ended the deadlock in France and led directly to the fighting in the Falaise Pocket, where VII Corps attacked the south-western flank. The Battle of the Falaise Pocket was the decisive engagement of the Battle of Normandy.

After the liberation of Paris, the 7th Corps took part in the fighting in the Aachen Gap, broke through the Siegfried Line, and by December 1944 was involved in the brutal fighting in the Hürtgen Forest. Collins thus found himself on the northern side of the German 'bulge' at the start of their Ardennes offensive. He played a major part in the defeat of the German attack, disengaging on his eastern front and turning south to attack the northern shoulder of the 'bulge,' blocking the German transport routes through St. Vith.

After the end of the Ardennes offensive, Collins returned to the attack, capturing Cologne on 11 March 1945, before advancing towards Paderborn to complete isolation of the Ruhr and Model's Army Group B. Finally, Collins and VII Corps advanced to the south of the Harz Mountains and reached the Elbe. On 20 April, Collins was informed that he had been promoted to temporary Lieutenant General, dated from 15 April '45. On 22 April, all resistance ended on his front.  In June, he was promoted to permanent Brigadier General.

After the war, Collins rose to the highest ranks in the army. In September 1945 he became Chief of Staff, Army Ground Forces, before becoming, on 15 December, Director of Information (later Chief of Public Information) of the Army, with the task of defending the Army in the post-war world.

After two years of public relations work, he was appointed General Eisenhower's Deputy Chief of Staff on 1 September 1947. Collins was promoted to temporary General and to permanent Major General, on 24 January 1948. He then retained the post when General Omar Bradley replaced Eisenhower in February 1948. By the end of 1948, Collins had been appointed Vice Chief of Staff. On 16 August 1949, he became Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army and held this post until 15 August 1953.

Throughout the Korean War, as Chief of Staff, Collins was the Army's senior officer. He directed the Army's operation of the railroads, brought the first Special Forces group into the order of battle, and was closely associated with the development of the Army's contribution to the newly established North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

In 1953-54, he was representative of the U.S. to the Military Committee and the Standing Group of NATO. Between October 1954 and May 1955, he was Special Representative of the U.S. in Vietnam with Ambassadorial rank. He was sent to Vietnam in an attempt to shore up the government of Ngo Dinh Diem. General Collins returned to his NATO assignment and then retired from active Army service in March 1956.

General Joseph Lawton Collins was one of the most capable American Corps commanders of WWII, and one of a small number of senior officers to serve in both the Pacific and European fronts. Collins was highly regarded by friend and foe alike. General Omar Bradley described him as 'independent, heady, capable and full of vinegar,' while the German generals ranked him (along with General Troy Middleton) as one of the two best U.S. Corps Commanders in Europe.

Medals and Awards

Army Distinguished Service Medal with 3 Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters
Silver Star Medal with Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster
Legion of Merit with Valor Device and Silver and Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters
Bronze Star Medal with Valor Device
World War I Victory Medal
Occupation of Germany World War I
American Defense Medal
Asia-Pacific Medal with 2 Bronze Stars
European, African, Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with Silver and Bronze Stars
World War II Victory Medal
Army of Occupation Medal
Croix De Guerre - France
Croix De Guerre - Belgium
United Nations Service Medal
Army Meritorious Unit Commendation


In 1921, Joseph Collins married Gladys Easterbrook, daughter of the first Chief of Army Chaplains, Colonel Edmund P. Easterbrook.

The Collins family contains other military men. Joseph's brother, James Lawton Collins, was a U.S. Army Major General, and his nephew, James Lawton Collins, Jr., was a Brigadier General in the Army.

Another nephew of Joseph Lawton Collins, Michael Collins, is a retired U.S. Air Force Major General, and is famous for being the Command Module Pilot on the Apollo 11 mission in 1969 that placed the first two men on the moon.

Death and Burial

General Joseph Lawton 'Lightning Joe' Collins died of cardiac arrest in Washington, DC, on 12 September 1987, at the age of 91. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.

His wife Gladys died in 1989 and is buried with Joseph.

Origin of Nickname/Handle:
Collins remained with the 25th Infantry through five months of training on Guadalcanal and during the fight for Munda on New Georgia from July to October 1943. It was during this period in the Pacific that he gained the nickname 'Lightning Joe' from the Divisional HQ's codename - 'Lightning.'

Honoree ID: 46   Created by: MHOH




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