Collins, Joseph Lawton

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Joseph Lawton Collins

General J. Lawton Collins
Nickname "Lightning Joe"
Born May 1, 1896(1896-05-01)
New Orleans, Louisiana
Died September 12, 1987(1987-09-12) (aged 91)
Washington, D.C.
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1917 - 1956
Rank General

Commands held 3rd Battalion 22nd Infantry
25th Infantry Division
VII Corps
Chief of Staff of the US Army
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Army Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star
Legion of Merit
Bronze Star

Joseph "Lightning Joe" Lawton Collins (May 1, 1896 – September 12, 1987) was a General in the United States Army.[1] During World War II, he served in both the Pacific and European Theaters of Operations. His elder brother, James Lawton Collins, was also in the army as a Major General. His nephew, Michael Collins, would become famous for being the Command Module Pilot on the Apollo 11 mission in 1969 that saw the first two men on the Moon. He too would retire as a Major General, but he was in the Air Force.

He was Army Chief of Staff during the Korean War.

Early career

Collins was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on May 1, 1896. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1917; was commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned to the 22nd Infantry, April 1917; was promoted to first lieutenant, May 1917, and temporary captain, August 1917. He attended the Infantry School of Arms at Fort Sill and served with his regiment at various locations, 1917–1919. Collins was promoted to captain, June 1918, and to temporary major, September 1918; commanded the 3rd Battalion, 22nd Infantry, in France, 1919, and was assistant chief of staff, G-3, of American Forces in Germany, 1920–1921.


Collins married Gladys Easterbrook, 1921; reverted to captain, 1920; was instructor in the department of chemistry at West Point, 1921–1925; graduated from the company officer course at the Infantry School, Fort Benning, 1926, and from the advanced course at the Field Artillery School, Fort Sill, 1927. He was an instructor in weapons and tactics at the Infantry School, 1927–1931; was promoted to major, August 1932; was executive officer of the 23rd Brigade, Manila, and assistant chief of staff, G-2, Philippine Division, 1933–1934.

He graduated from the Army Industrial College, 1937, and the Army War College, 1938; was an instructor at the Army War College, 1938–1940. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel, June 1940; was chief of staff of the VII Corps, 1941.

Major Commands

Omar Bradley & Collins at Cherbourg, June 1944
Collins was promoted to the temporary ranks of colonel, January 1941, brigadier general, February 1942, and major general, May 1942. He was chief of staff of the Hawaiian Department, 1941–1942, and commanding general of the 25th Infantry Division—the "Tropic Lightning" Division—on Oahu and in operations against the Japanese on Guadalcanal, 1942–1943 and on New Georgia in from July to October 1943.

Transferred to Europe, he commanded VII Corps in the Normandy invasion and in Western European campaigns to the German surrender, 1944–1945. The VII Corps is best-known for the leading role it played in Operation Cobra; less well known is Collins' contribution to that plan.

Collins was promoted to temporary lieutenant general (April) and permanent brigadier general (June), 1945. He was deputy commanding general and chief of staff of Army Ground Forces, August – December 1945; was director of information (later chief of public information) of the Army, 1945–1947; was deputy (later vice) chief of staff of the United States Army, 1947–1949; was promoted to temporary general and permanent major general, January 1948.

chief of staff of the United States Army

Collins with Walton Walker and John H. Church in Korea
Collins was chief of staff of the United States Army, August 16, 1949 – August 15, 1953; as such he was the Army’s senior officer throughout the Korean War.


Collins, MacArthur and Sherman

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.

He was representative of the United States to the Military Committee and the Standing Group of NATO, 1953–1954; was special representative of the United States in Vietnam with ambassadorial rank, 1954–1955; returned to his NATO assignment; retired from active service, March 1956.

Collins died in Washington, D.C., on September 12, 1987. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.[2]



Description: In this photograph, high ranking Department of Army members, Commanding Generals of six Stateside Army Areas, and other field commanders, meet with Secretary of the the Army, Frank Pace and General J. Lawton Collins, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army at the Pentagon. Front row, left to right:
Lieutenant General Maxwell D. Taylor; Lieutenant General Joseph M. Swing; General John R. Hodge; General J. Lawton Collins; Secretary Frank Pace; General John E. Hull; General Edward H. Brooks; Lieutenant General William M. Hoge; Lieutenant General John W. O'Daniel.
Back row, left to right:
Major General Edward T. Williams; Major General William M. Miley; Major General Leland S. Hobbs; Lieutenant General William B. Kean; Lieutenant General George H. Decker; Lieutenant General Horace McBride; Lieutenant General Alexander R. Bolling; Lieutenant General Lyman L. Lemnitzer; Major General Lester J. Whitlock; Major General Edwin K. Wright; and Brigadier General Frederic L. Hayden.
Date: December 02, 1952
Related Collection: Frank Pace Papers
ARC Keywords: Armed forces officers; Cabinet officers; Generals


Collins, J. Lawton (Joseph Lawton), 1896-1987;

Hodge, J. R. (John Reed), 1893-1963;

Lemnitzer, Lyman L. (Lyman Louis), 1899-;

Pace, Frank, 1912-1988;

Taylor, Maxwell D. (Maxwell Davenport), 1901-1987;

Brooks, Edward H. (Edward Hale), 1893-1978;

Bolling, A. R. (Alexander Russell), 1895-1964;

Swing, Joseph (Joseph May), 1894-1987;

Decker, George Henry, 1902-1980;

Hobbs, Leland S. (Leland Stanford), 1892-1966;

Kean, William B. (William Benjamin), 1897-1981;

Whitlock, Lester J. (Lester Johnson), 1892-1971;

Williams, E. T. (Edward Thomas), 1901-1973;

O'Daniel, John W. (John Wilson), 1894-1975;

Hayden, Frederic L. (Frederic Lord), 1901-1969;

McBride, Horace L. (Horace Logan), 1894-1962;

Hoge, William M., 1894-1979;

Hull, John Edwin, 1895-1975;

Miley, William M. (William Maynadler), 1897-1997;

Wright, Edwin K. (Edwin Kennedy), 1898-1983






June 25, 1950

This particular Sunday the return from wince they came did not happen exactly as expected.  In Tokyo when  of the SCAP staff learned from Edith Sebald that something was amiss in Korea, he quickly passed the word to General of the Army Douglas A. MacArthur, who was quartered at the  Dai Ichi Life Insurance building.  The General had gotten the word from General Ned [Edward M.] Almond about two hours after the attack began [about 6AM].  FEAF would not learn of it for another three and three quarter hours.  It would not be until 11:30 AM that the whole of FEAF was notified of the incursion.  In the mean time the General of the Army wanted to be alone with his thoughts.  Being so early his wife came in and ask if everything was all right

June 25, 1950

Confidence in the ROK Army was further reinforced that day by MacArthur's G2, Charles Willoughby. It was contained in the first telecon between Collins and Ridgway in the Pentagon and Willoughby in Tokyo. When Collins and Ridgway queried Willoughby about the situation in South Korea, Willoughby conceded that it was a major NKPA invasion aimed at conquering South Korea but that the ROK Army was withdrawing with "orderliness," the morale of the South Koreans was "good," and the Rhee government was "standing firm." Nonetheless, Willoughby "said," GHQ was proceeding with a prearranged contingency plan to evacuate American personnel (women and children first) by ship from Sŏul's seaport, Inch'ŏn, with appropriate air and naval protection.[3-14]

This first telecon contained a historically fascinating sidelight. Without consulting Truman, that day both GHQ, Tokyo, and the Pentagon decided independently to respond affirmatively to Muccio's request for a ten-day supply of ammo for the ROK Army. When he received the request, MacArthur ordered his chief of staff, Ned Almond, to load two ships immediately. In the telecon Collins asked Willoughby if he was correct in assuming Tokyo was meeting Muccio's request. Willoughby replied: "We are meeting emergency request for ammunition." The two ships would be escorted by air and naval vessels. Thus the Pentagon and GHQ, Tokyo, had made the decision to project American military power into South Korea without presidential authorization.[3-15]

July 10, 1950

President Truman sent two members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Collins and General Vandenberg, to the Far East on 10 July 1950. They were to bring back firsthand information to use in establishing the scope of expansion of the U. S. military program.

July 11, 1950

Ten days later, when General Collins paused in Hawaii on his way to visit the Far East Command, he looked into the matter.

In a teleconference with Ridgway in Washington, Collins asked him to query key staff officers on whether it would be better to send the 5th RCT as a unit or break it down into battalions and battalion cadres to bring other FEC regiments up to war strength.

His own feeling was that the 5th RCT should be employed as a regiment; not cannibalized. Ridgway and other staff officers agreed, recommending that the regiment be sent to Korea at its existing strength with all possible speed.

July 14, 1950

Collins and Vandenberg returned to Tokyo
[5-7/13 2300] , where they again conferred with MacArthur, then flew back to Washington, where they arrived on July 14, Washington time.

August 4, 1950

About this same time the JCS likewise felt a need for closer liaison with MacArthur. For one thing the JCS still had grave doubts about the proposed amphibious landing at Inchon, and the doubt was spreading far and wide. It seemed that MacArthur was being deliberately vague about the details of Inchon and the chiefs could not understand why. Accordingly, the JCS detailed Matt Ridgway and Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations (and acting Vice Chief of Staff) Lauris Norstad (West Point, 1930) to accompany Harriman to Tokyo, to brief MacArthur on JCS thinking and to find out what MacArthur was up to. The generals took along several subordinates to do legwork. In addition, Ridgway hand carried a letter from Joe Collins to MacArthur, wishing him well and expressing the hope that MacArthur could win in Korea with the six plus American divisions already in the Far East or on the was.[7-12]

June 26, 1950


To many, however, it seemed that Church's time had come and gone, that to send him off to yet another war at his age and in his poor state of health was unfair and unwise. MacArthur, who had turned seventy in January, apparently did not share that view. One result was that by and large, Army officers sent to Korea were older and, in some cases, less robust than their World War II counterparts.[3-24]*

 *At the time of the Normandy invasion Eisenhower was fifty-three, Bradley fifty-one. Army Chief of Staff George Marshall (then sixty-three) believed strongly that younger men should command in the field, but seniority and other factors tied his hands. Hence the three American Army commanders at Normandy were considered "old": Courtney Hodges (First), fifty-seven; George Patton (Third) fifty-eight; William H. Simpson (Ninth) fifty-six. Fifth Army commander Mark Clark and his classmate Joe Collins (in line for ETO Army command), both forty-eight, more nearly fitted Marshall's age criterion.

 June 26, 1950 0915


1915 Washington Time

Secretary of State Acheson was waiting for me at the airport as was Secretary of Defense Johnson. We hurried to Blair House where we were joined by Secretary of the Army Frank Pace. & Secretary of the Navy Francis Matthews; Secretary of the Air Force Thomas Finletter General of the Army Omar N. Bradley; the Army Chief General Collins; the Air Force Chief General Vandenberg; and Admiral Forrest Sherman Chief of Naval Operations.

Dean Acheson was accompanied by Undersecretaries Webb and Rusk and Assistant Secretary John Hickerson and Ambassador- at-Large Philip Jessup. It was late and we went at once to the dining room for dinner. I asked that no discussion take place until dinner was ended and over and the Blair House staff had withdrawn.

Earlier that Sunday evening. Acheson reported, the Security Council of the United Nations had, by a vote of nine to nothing, approved a resolution declaring that a breach of the peace had been committed by the North Korean action and ordering the North Koreans to cease action and withdraw their forces.

I then called on Acheson to present the recommendations which the State and Defense Departments had prepared. He presented the following recommendations for immediate action:

 1) That MacArthur should evacuate the Americans from Korea --including the dependents of the military mission — and, in order to do so, should keep open the Kimp'o and other airports, repelling all hostile attacks thereon. In doing this, his air forces should stay south of the 38th Parallel.

2) MacArthur should be instructed to get ammunition and supplies to the Korean army by airdrop and otherwise.

3) That the Seventh Fleet should be ordered into the Formosa Strait to prevent the conflict from spreading to that area.  We should make a statement that the fleet would repel any attack on Formosa and that no attacks should be made from Formosa on the mainland.

At this point I interrupted to say that the Seventh Fleet should be ordered north at once, but that I wanted to withhold making any statement until the fleet was in position. After this report I asked each person in turn to state his agreement or disagreement and any views he might have in addition.

Two things stand out in this discussion.

One was the complete, almost unspoken acceptance on the part of everyone that whatever had to be done to meet this aggression had to be done. There was no suggestion from anyone that either the United Nations or the United States could back away from it.

The other point which stands out was the difference in view of what might be called for Vandenberg and Sherman thought that air and naval aid might be enough. Collins said that if the Korean army was really broken, ground forces would be necessary.

I expressed the opinion that the Russians were trying to get Korea by default gambling that we would be afraid of starting a third world war and would offer no resistance. I thought that we were still holding the stronger hand, although how much stronger it was hard to tell.


At 1915 hours that [Saturday] night [1915+1400=3315-2400=0915] the President landed at Washington and drove directly to his temporary residence at Blair House. Here were assembled the key officers of the Departments of State and Defense, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff: General Omar Bradley (chairman), General J. Lawton Collins (Army), Admiral Forrest P Sherman (Navy), and General Hoyt S. Vandenberg (Air Force). Most of the talk over the dinner table reflected a hope that the South Koreans could hold with the help of American arms and equipment which General MacArthur was sending them. The main theme of conversation, however, was that the Communists appeared to be repeating patterns of aggression similar to those acts which had set off World War II.
After dinner President Truman opened the conference with the statement that he did not wish to make decisions that night, except such as were immediately necessary. Secretary Acheson then presented three recommendations which had been prepared by the State and Defense Departments:

1) that MacArthur would send arms and ammunition to Korea,

2) that MacArthur would furnish ships and planes to assist and protect the evacuation of American dependents from Korea, and

3) that the U.S. Seventh Fleet would be ordered northward from the Philippines to report to MacArthur.

 Truman asked for comments, and the discussion worked around to what the United States might have to do to save South Korea. Vandenberg and Sherman thought that air and naval aid might be enough. Collins stated that if the ROK Army was really broken, American ground forces would be needed. At the end of the meeting President Truman directed that orders be issued implementing the three recommendations made by the State and Defense Departments.#74    

June 26, 1950 12:30 PM

6/25/50  10:30 PM Washington 6/26/50 12:30 PM

[About noon, Monday, in Korea,] Truman returned to Washington that Sunday evening, June 25. En route he summoned his chief Pentagon and State advisers to a meeting that night at Blair House, the president's temporary home and office during the renovation of the White House. Thirteen senior officials gathered at Blair House for a fried chicken dinner and urgent talks. Of the thirteen, the majority - eight - were from the Pentagon. These included Louis Johnson and Omar Bradley, returned from the aircraft carrier demonstration in Norfolk, the three service secretaries - Frank Matthews, Frank Pace, and Tom Finletter - and the three military chiefs - Collins, Vandenberg, and Sherman.[3-17]

Confident that the ROK Army would push back the NKPA, the Pentagon contingent had a larger Far East worry that night: Formosa. Recently the Chinese Communists had taken Hainan Island and had amassed 200,000 troops on the mainland opposite Formosa. The Pentagon advisers believed that the NKPA invasion in Korea might possibly be a feint to divert attention and resources from a Chinese Communist invasion of Formosa. Johnson and Bradley, armed with a long and eloquent study paper from MacArthur urging American support for Formosa, took advantage of the crisis atmosphere to push for a reversal of the Truman-Acheson hands-off Formosa policy. On Johnson's instructions, the ailing Bradley read the entire MacArthur paper, and Johnson recommended (as the JCS had the previous December) that an American survey team be authorized to go to Formosa to find out what was required to maintain the security of the island.[3-18]