James Lawton Collins Jr., an Army brigadier general and military historian who directed the Army’s military history program for 12 years, has died. He was 84.
Collins, who lived in Washington, D.C., died Monday of a pulmonary embolism at his country home in Middleburg, Va.
During a 42-year military career, Collins led a World War II artillery battalion of North Dakota National Guardsmen ashore at Utah Beach during the 1944 D-day invasion of Normandy. He later served in Korea and Vietnam.
A linguist who was fluent in French, Italian, German and Spanish, he was a former commanding officer of the Army language school in Monterey, Calif., and from 1959 to 1962 was the first director of a coordinated Defense Language Institute in Washington.
He also spoke some Russian, and was an intelligence officer at times during his career.
As a military historian, he wrote studies and articles on the Vietnam War and was an editor of World War II histories, including the “D-Day Encyclopedia,” which he co-edited with David Chandler of Britain’s Royal Military Academy.
The work contains articles by more than 100 military historians, and personal battlefield accounts ranging from Collins’ experience leading his men ashore in France on June 6, 1944, to Manfred Rommel’s description of his father, German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who tried to anticipate and repel the Allied invasion.
Upon his retirement from the Army in 1982, Collins embarked on a second career as a member of a Virginia wine cooperative and a grower of vinifera grapes at his Middleburg home.
A member of the Class of 1939 at West Point, Collins was born in El Paso into a family steeped in Army tradition.
His father, Maj. Gen. James Lawton Collins, was an aide de camp to Gen. John J. Pershing, who commanded the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I. Pershing was godfather to the future Gen. Collins.
His uncle was Gen. Joseph Lawton “Lightning Joe” Collins, who would become Army chief of staff during the Korean War. During World War II, James Collins Jr. would serve under his uncle with VII Corps in France.
Astronaut Michael Collins, who as an Air Force colonel would participate in the Gemini X and Apollo XI space flights, is the younger brother of James Collins Jr.
Early in his Army career at Camp Gruber, Okla., James Lawton Collins Jr. was assigned to command a unit of the North Dakota National Guard, which had been federalized to fight in World War II. Those were the men he would lead on D-day as the 957th Field Artillery Battalion.
His later Army career included service at NATO headquarters in Europe, two years in Vietnam as special assistant to Gen. William Westmoreland, three years in Washington as deputy assistant chief of staff for intelligence and three years in Germany as commander of V Corps artillery.
While serving in the Army, he received a master’s degree in foreign affairs from the University of Virginia.
Collins officially retired in 1969 but was recalled to active duty in 1970 as chief of military history for the Army.
He was a former president of the U.S. Commission on Military History and the Council on America’s Military Past, and a member of the International Commission of Military Historians, which was formed to investigate the World War II service as a Nazi officer of Austrian President and former United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim.
Survivors include his wife, Yolande de Mauduit Collins; four children; one brother; two sisters; and seven grandchildren.