Early Settlers of Union
Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements
Mists of History on Their Way of Life
By: Ethelene Dyer Jones
A Memorial Day
Tribute to Major Robert Neal Collins Sr.
Robert Neal Collins served as a gunner in the US
Army Air Force during World War II. He would proceed to the rank of
Major and become a pilot as he spent a total of 27 years in the US
Air Force Reserves.
How many times
Major Robert Neal Collins, Sr. (1921- 2007), US Air Force Veteran of
World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnamese War, flight instructor,
lover of flying, read or quoted "High Flight" by John Gillespie McGee,
Jr., I know not. But the poem so characterizes Mr. Collins that I
reproduce it here in his memory and for our consideration as we observe
Memorial Day, 2007.
Oh! I have
slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the
skies on laughter-silvered wings;
climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
clouds--and done a hundred things
You have not
dreamed of--Wheeled and soared and swung
in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring
I've chased the
shouting wind along, and flung
eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the
long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the
windswept heights with easy grace
lark, or even eagle flew.
And, while with
silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my
hand, and touched the face of God.
Gillespie McGee, Jr. (1922-1941)
Neal Collins, Sr. experienced the same lofty thoughts the young
American-born British fighter pilot so aptly expressed in his sonnet.
The young McGee, at age 19, was killed December 11, 1941 in a
training flight as his plane from the Spitfire Squadron fell near Scopwick, Lincolnshire, England. The
young pilot wrote the poem on the back of a letter sent to his parents.
He noted: "I am enclosing a verse I wrote the other day. It started at
30,000 feet, and was finished soon after I landed." His parents shared
the poem with the world, and it has inspired countless thousands.
On March 14, 2007,
three days shy of his eighty-sixth birthday, R. Neal Collins "slipped
the surly bonds of earth." It was not in a plane this time for the
flyer, soaring high above the clouds, but God came down, touched the
hand of His servant, and said, "Come away with me. This time, I am
taking you where you will experience flight and freedom as you've never
seen before. He truly "touched the face of God."
When I heard of
R. Neal's passing, I thought back to the beginning of World War II.
Three men, born the same year, 1921, on the same Collins
Road in Choestoe, joined the U. S.
Army Air Force. One was Robert Neal Collins (a cousin), one was William
Clyde Collins (my double-first cousin), and one was Francis Eugene Dyer
At Choestoe Church
where the three young men were members, we kept them in our prayers
throughout the war, praying for their safety and return. They were on
the list of many others from our community who followed their patriotic
leanings and were willing to give all for our country. All three sons
of Francis Thurman "Bob" Collins and Mary Viola Collins (she had died
in 1937 before World War II began) served during World War II. Cecil W.
Collins was in the U. S. Coast Guard; James Thompson Collins was in the
U. S. Navy; and Robert Neal Collins was in the U. S. Air Force. All
three of the Collins brothers and their cousins, Clyde Collins and
Eugene Dyer, returned as decorated heroes from the conflict. The
community and their relatives felt pride in their noble service.
War II, Robert Neal Collins, Sr. resumed his life, but kept his ties to
the U. S. Air Force by serving in the Reserves. For twenty-seven years
he served his country, retiring in 1970 with the rank of major. During
the Vietnam Conflict, he was activated and spent sixteen months with
Airlift 445 at Dobbins Air Force Base, flying to England and Vietnam. As
a certified flight instructor, he taught many in the North
Georgia area how to fly.
He was a noted
teacher. In 1954 he received the Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Georgia and
in 1964 the Master of Science degree from George Peabody College. He
taught mathematics at Union County High
alma mater, and in night classes at Young Harris College.
Known for his wry wit and humor, he had the ability to make his
classroom one of ease, yet of strong purpose. Many former students rise
up and call him blessed.
On October 19, 1951, he
married beautiful Ruby Rogers, daughter of Thomas Franklin and Jessie
Teague Rogers. To Neal and Ruby were born three children: Robert Neal,
Jr. on November
18, 1953; Rhenee
2, 1955; and Joseph R., born June 15, 1961.
Family was important to this couple. They reared their children and
cherished their grandchildren as they arrived. At the time of Neal's
death on March
14, 2007, they had six grandchildren and
two step-grandchildren. Ruby and Neal celebrated their fiftieth wedding
anniversary in October, 2001. Relatives and friends expressed the love
and admiration they felt for this couple.
Church and a
right relationship with the Lord were important to Robert Neal Collins,
Sr. He was a Sunday School teacher,
director of the Sunday School for years, and a long-time ordained
deacon of Choestoe Baptist Church
where he grew up. His steady influence and eye for fair administration
led the church through years of growth, then through reversals to
renewed growth and redirection. Neal sought the leadership of God and
led others to depend on Him. Family has suggested that memorial
donations may be made to the Choestoe Church Building Fund for the
church's new Family Life Center that
Neal helped to engineer.
I hope you
re-read the lines of "High Flight." Major Robert Neal Collins had the
lofty experiences so aptly penned by John Gillespie McGee, Jr. In
addition, R. Neal had the experience of seeing insight blossom on the
faces of students as he taught them and they responded to his
instruction. Whether he was guiding an eager student in the intricacies
of flight or opening up the secrets of mathematics to a high school or
college student, he was himself both learner and teacher. As Henry
Adams stated: "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his
influence stops." We remember you gratefully, Major Robert Neal
c2007 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 24, 2007 in The Union
Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights
Dyer Jones is a retired educator, freelance writer, poet, and
historian. She may be reached at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; phone
478-453-8751; or mail 1708