It is shameful the way Louisiana has treated the memory of its most distinguished military heroes.
In 1997, our state Legislature — a body not known for its wisdom — voted to remove a statue of the legendary leader of the Flying Tigers, Lt. General Claire Lee Chennault from State Capitol grounds in order to make room for another parking lot. The Chennault statue had been a gift to Louisiana from Taiwan in appreciation for Chennault’s major contribution to the defense of the Chinese people during World War II.
Once the state’s fiscal crisis is over, perhaps the new governor and lawmakers could do a better job than their predecessors did by commissioning a statue of another Louisiana military hero who was the combat leader of hundreds of thousands of “the greatest generation” in World War II, Gen. Joseph Lawton “Lightning Joe” Collins.
Collins was born in New Orleans in 1896. Attended LSU. Graduated from West Point. Following Pearl Harbor, was given command of the 25th Infantry Division.
He led the 25th to victory on Guadalcanal. Collins then was assigned by Gen. Eisenhower to command the VII Corp of the U.S. lst Army for the invasion of Europe.
Gen. Collins was one of only three American generals to command combat troops in both the Pacific and Europe during the war.
The VII Corp participated in the D-Day landings, spearheaded the breakthrough east of St. Lo, fought through France, Belgium, Germany and met the Russian army at the Elbe River at the end of the war in Europe.
After the war, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Omar Bradley called Collins “the ablest of all American corp commanders in WWII.” In 1949, Collins — then a four-star general — succeeded Gen. Bradley as Army chief of staff and served in that capacity during the Korean War. Collins is the only Louisiana native to serve as the head of the U.S. Army.
“Lightning Joe” Collins played a vital role in winning the war both in the Pacific and Europe. By winning the war, the United States liberated hundreds of millions of people from tyranny and saved, for decades to come, hundreds of millions more from life under Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
Collins deserves recognition from his state in the form of a statue to be built on state land, in either Baton Rouge or New Orleans, where young and old alike can view and be inspired by this all but forgotten Louisiana military hero.