J. Lawton Collins

Joseph Lawton Collins
Nickname(s) "Lightning Joe"
Born (1896-05-01)May 1, 1896
New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
Died September 12, 1987(1987-09-12) (aged 91)
Washington, D.C., United States
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery, United States
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1917–1956
Rank General
Unit Infantry Branch
Commands held 3rd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment
25th Infantry Division
VII Corps
Chief of Staff of the United States Army
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star
Legion of Merit
Bronze Star

General Joseph "Lightning Joe" Lawton Collins (May 1, 1896 – September 12, 1987) was a senior United States Army officer who served in World War II and became Army Chief of Staff during the Korean War. During World War II, he ,[1] 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, was the command module pilot on the Apollo 11 mission in 1969 that put the first two men on the Moon and would retire as a major general from the Air Force. His sister Gertrude was married to General Arthur Edmund Easterbrook.

Early career

Collins was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, into a large Irish Catholic family. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1917; was commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned to the 22nd Infantry Regiment, 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.

During this time Collins served in the Army of Occupation with the Philippine Scouts in Germany.[2]


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.

World War II

Collins, on the left, with Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and Major General Matthew Ridgway, sometime in late 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. VII Corps is best known for the leading role it played in Operation Cobra; less well known is Collins' contribution to that plan.

One of the few generals to fight in both Europe and the Pacific, Collins contrasted the nature of the enemy in the two theaters:

The German was far more skilled than the Japanese. Most of the Japanese that we fought were not skilled men. Not skilled leaders. The German had a professional army.... The Japanese... didn't know how to handle combined arms - the artillery and the support of the infantry - to the same extent we did. They were gallant soldiers, though.... They fought very, very hard, but they were not nearly as skillful as the Germans. But the German didn't have the tenacity of the Japanese.[3]

Collins was promoted to temporary lieutenant general (April) and permanent brigadier general (June), 1945.

Post war era

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.

Collins with Walton Walker and John H. Church in Korea

Army Chief of Staff

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. As a wartime chief of staff his primary responsibility was to ensure that adequately trained and equipped soldiers were sent to fight in Korea.

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.

Late career

General Collins 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 and returned to his NATO assignment. He retired from active service in March 1956.

Death and burial

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


Bronze star
Bronze star
Silver star
1st Row Distinguished Service Medal with oak leaf cluster Silver Star
2nd Row Legion of Merit with three oak leaf clusters Bronze Star Medal World War I Victory Medal Army of Occupation of Germany Medal
3rd Row American Defense Service Medal Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two campaign stars European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with five campaign stars World War II Victory Medal
4th Row Army of Occupation Medal National Defense Service Medal Legion of Honour (Grade of Commander) Croix de Guerre with palm


  1. Video: Dragon's Teeth. U.S. Army Pictorial Service. Retrieved February 21, 2012.
  2. Edwards, Paul M. (2010). Historical Dictionary of the Korean War. Volume 41 of Historical Dictionaries of War, Revolution, and Civil Unrest. Scarecrow Press. p. 65. ISBN 9780810874619. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
  3. Maj. Gary Wade No. 5 Conversations with General J. Lawton Collins United States Army Command and General Staff College 1983


External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to J. Lawton Collins.
Military offices
Preceded by
Maxwell Murray
Commanding General 25th Infantry Division
Succeeded by
Charles L. Mullins
Preceded by
Robert C. Richardson, Jr.
Commanding General VII Corps
Succeeded by
Post deactivated
Preceded by
New post
Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army
1947 – 1949
Succeeded by
Wade H. Haislip
Preceded by
Omar Bradley
Chief of Staff of the United States Army
Succeeded by
Matthew Ridgway
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