About James Lawton Collins
James Lawton Collins (December 10, 1882–June 30, 1963) was a major general of the U.S. Army who served in World War I and World War II, and was the father of Apollo 11 astronaut Brig. Gen. Michael Collins (ret.) and Brig. Gen. James Lawton Collins, Jr. (ret.).
His brother, Gen. J. Lawton Collins, served as Army Chief of Staff during the Korean War.
Family and early life
Collins was born into a large Irish Catholic family in Algiers, Louisiana, across the Mississippi River from New Orleans. His father, Jeremiah Bernard Collins, had left Ireland as a young boy to join the rest of the family in Cincinnati, Ohio. Family legend has it that he served as a drummer boy in the Civil War, and at age 16, helped to drive a herd of horses into Texas to replace the cavalry mounts that had been lost to the war. He made his way to New Orleans, where he worked for James Lawton, a grocer.
Jeremiah worked his way up to running the stables for the delivery wagons, and eventually married Kate Lawton, his employer's daughter. They moved across the river to Algiers, near the terminus and rail repair shops of the Southern Pacific Railroad, which employed many workers of Irish descent. There, they established a dry goods store, with a pub in the back. Jeremiah and Kate's eleven children would work there, serving beer and food to railroad men. The first born son was named for Kate's father: James Lawton Collins.
James was not tall, about 5 ft 6 in (168 cm), but he was agile, athletic, and good with horses. Later in life, he would come to the attention of Gen. John J. Pershing for his aggressive and successful polo playing, and as an excellent judge of horses. A letter in the Library of Congress in the Pershing correspondence asks James to go to the remount station in the Shenandoah Valley to pick a new horse for the general to ride.
Collins enrolled in Tulane University, but his mother's uncle, the mayor of New Orleans, was asked by a local member of Congress if there was a bright young man who could "stay the course" at West Point. Collins, reached at Tulane, accepted the apppointment.
During the Philippine–American War, Collins served in the 8th Cavalry and as an aide-de-camp to Pershing in the Philippines, during the Mexican Punitive Expedition and in France during World War I.
In World War I, Collins commanded a battalion of the 1st Infantry Division's 7th Field Artillery. During World War II he commanded the Puerto Rico Department and the 5th Service Command at Columbus, Ohio.
Collins retired as a major general in 1946.