Mentioning Chief Collins to any member of the 456th BS elicited an immediate smile and chuckles. "He was a character!" according to, it seems, everyone. Hands down, Chief Collins is one of the most endearing members of the 456th. He combined a sense of fun and adventure with exceptional skills. Chief Collins seems to have taken everything in stride without taking himself too seriously.
Chief Collins, according to the famous war correspondent, Ernie Pyle, was from Connecticut and had been a fighter pilot before he joined the original contingent from Myrtle Beach, SC that comprised the 456th BS. The Collins crew included Lt. Jack "Red Dog" Arnold, the bombardier who met Ernie Pyle at a public house in London with Lt. Lindsey Greene, also a bombaridier. Red Dog reportedly never met a stranger or lost his smile; after a pub crawl, Red Dog invited Pyle to return to Earls Colne to spend some time with the 456th. The famous photograph of Pyle with an aircrew somewhere in England is of Pyle with the Collins crew in Earls Colne in May 1944. Chief Collins and Red Dog, along with the 456th BS, are described in detail in Pyle's book, Brave Men, in the chapter entitled The Flying Wedge.
In his book entitled, Strikes, Ross Halran, also with the 456th, published a letter of remeberance penned by Col. John Bull Stirling. The letter includes a classic story about one mission flown by Chief and Red Dog.
Lt. Burgmeier indicated in post-war comments that the combat crew would occassionally have to give Chief oxygen in flight if he was suffering from the night before. No one seemed to mind.
Red Dog and Chief appeared to have flown together, notwithstanding a few minor bumps along the orad, throughout their long tour of duty in the Eurpoean Theater. They reportedly enjoyed scaring other aircrews by creeping up behind them and suddenly appearing out of their blind spot. In a time of war, flying combat missions day after day, Chief Collins found a way to provide welcome comic relief.
The Collins crew often flew in the flight lead position. The Collins/Arnold aircraft was named "Tootsie", after Capt. Collins' girlfriend back in the States, which somehow seems perfect.
The 456th was made up of a remarkable group of young pioneers who had to be a little bit crazy to fly the B-26 Marauder in combat. They flew with dedication to duty and an esprit de corps nurtured by Col. Wilson R Wood. Col. Wood demanded their absolute support and gave them his in return. Chief Collins exemplfies their unorthodox, irreverent approach and their unique, funny sense of humor. He is missed.
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