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30 March 2013

Greg Collins

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I attended a funeral yesterday for my cousin, Elwood Leroy Collins, who died on the 24th. Born in 1925, he was the son of my Grandfather’s brother and, though somewhat distant in relationship, he appeared in more than a couple of “scenes” in my life whenever I returned to this part of Virginia. Family reunions, Sunday dinners or, simply, running into him during local travels- it was always great to see him as he brought a sense of humour to nearly every occasion. No doubt it would have been present yesterday were he not the subject of the gathering. Besides being a relative, he was a great friend to my Grandfather, my Father and to me.

The young cleryman in attendance was certainly an eloquent speaker, and certainly holy enough (I guess). And Leroy (as we all called him) certainly had all the typical qualities for praise: he was a good husband (his wife, Lucille, preceded him in death seven years ago), a good father, good grandfather and good great-grandfather. He served in the US Navy during WW2 and retired from the Virginia Forestry Department after 40 years of service. Another member of this country’s “greatest generation” has departed. And all this was cited by the minister. “Taps” was sounded; the flag was folded. Good job, but there are a couple of details which, in my opinion, were not covered very well, and these details are those that separated Leroy from most of us and, very possibly, made him the absolutely great person I knew.

He was a young 2nd Class Boatswains (Bos’ns) Mate in the Navy who was Coxswain (Coxs’n). A Coxswain, for those of the more “landlubber” persuasion, is a driver of small craft (boats) and is generally a position/qualification occupied by mid to high ranking BM’s. During the moments prior to the D-Day invasion, he shuttled Generals and Admirals from ship to ship to last minute planning meetings and, on the day itself, piloted the first landing craft (LCC) that hit Omaha Beach. It is important to note here that a Coxswain’s life expectancy during this event was measured in seconds- not minutes- and many, if not most, did not survive the day. And this evolution was repeated until all the troops were landed. And Leroy survived.

Leroy was still in the Navy in 1946 during the A-Bomb tests at Bikini Atoll. Apparently, the bomb (which was very much like the “Fat Man” bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki) did not sink most of the many (in excess of 200) ships that had been brought there as part of the test. So, after the “fireworks”, Leroy was taken, by helicopter, from ship deck to ship deck to go down to the lower level of the engine rooms and open the discharge valves to allow sea water into the ships and, eventually, sink them (those ships that were not designated for further radiation study). Over and over, Leroy was subjected to incredible amounts of radiation (interestingly, he told me that, while the outside of the ships were charred black, the inside looked absolutely normal). And Leroy survived.

These details were only briefly, barely, and in the most general of terms, alluded to during the graveside service. And, as I observed the stoic and, frankly, blank stares of the younger folks who were there I wonder if anyone would have been able to “wrap their minds around it” anyway. I seem to encounter this phenomenon a lot, lately. I don’t suppose they teach kids about this anymore.

Leroy left us quietly, and with apparently no real struggle, in his own bed in his own home in Charlottesville. I am glad for this as he had certainly had more than his share of excitement in his earlier life. I will miss Leroy; his good heart and great sense of humour. I mourn the passing of this great American; they “don’t make them like that anymore”. Fair winds and smooth sailing, my friend.



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May he + Rest In Peace +

Deepest Sympathy & Condolences to his Family, Friends & Comrades.

At least his true story has not been forgotten, thanks for posting.

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My condolences for your loss and also a loss to our history.

Your comment about, "not teaching kids about this stuff" is unfortunately true. I'm a university professor and unbelievably had to explain to a 2nd year student the other day about who the Nazis and Adolph Hitler were. He hadn't heard of either.

regards,

Brian

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Greg, Deepest sympathies for your loss. Though the kids today may not understand the extent of their grandparents & great grandparents self sacrifice and courage, our world simply wouldn't exist as it does today if it weren't for people like your Cousin. This means in some way, he has affected every single life that has existed since the war, even if they dont know it. I believe the modern world is our gift from the Greatest Generation and its our duty to preserve and share their stories. I say thank you to your Cousin and all who fought the good fight and may they all rest as heroes. Tom

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My heartfelt thanks to all of you for your condolences and comments. It seems that, as the "line to mortality" shortens and those remaining move up a notch (I'm 59 now) we get used to saying goodbye to friends and family more frequently. However, this one was hard for me and I really appreciate the support.

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