LISTEN to this edition of Hometown Heroes
90-year-old Les Collins of Hanford, CA appears on the August 11, 2012 edition of Hometown Heroes. Collins, a native of Danville, IL, served in the 41st Infantry Division, 163rd Infantry Regiment during World War II.
Originally an infantryman, Les later volunteered to become a medic, and ended up making 11 beach landings in the South Pacific. You’ll hear him describe how he dealt with malaria roughly three dozen times, including bouts well after he came home from the war. He had been toughened up by his years on a farm, his transition from a one-room schoolhouse to one of the largest high schools in America, the years he and his brother spent living on their own as teenagers in Detroit, and then of course his trial by fire in the Army. But at age 23, after spending more than 500 mostly sleepless nights in foxholes, enduring the seemingly endless attacks of malaria, not to mention combat, this strapping six-foot-tall man weighed in at just 120 pounds.
You’ll hear Les recall the intense three-day battle in which he earned the Bronze Star. Operation Straight Line in May of 1944 left 40 Americans killed, more than 100 wounded as U.S. forces captured Wakde Island in Dutch New Guinea from the Japanese. Of the 33 medics who went ashore, Les was one of just two to emerge unscathed. His helmet was another story. Listen to the program to hear how Les and a lieutenant named Allen mistakenly grabbed each other’s helmets in the dark, and what Les remembers about what ensued. Both helmets would end up with holes in them.
The bullet entered the helmet, rattled around the liner, and exited, without Les being seriously hurt. He was able to tend to the wounded, and his courage in doing so resulted in his being recommended for the Bronze Star.
If that Bronze Star looks too new to be from 1945, it is. Les did not receive his medals until 2005, when Congressman Jim Costa presented them to him in Hanford, where Les has lived since 1960. Among the other topics you’ll hear Collins describe on Hometown Heroes are Tokyo Rose and the tense moments she foreshadowed when Les was on Biak, and his somber duty in tending to burn victims in Hiroshima just weeks after the atomic bomb as dropped.
The podcast linked at the top of the page includes more anecdotes from Collins about his experiences before, during, and after World War II. If you see Les around Hanford, please thank him for serving our country.