|Death: ||Jul. 12, 1944|
Research provides that he was the second son of Mary Eula Hendrix and Ernest Collins who had married about 1917 and started their family while living in Haskell County, OK. By 1920, the family had moved to Pueblo County, CO, where Walter was born.
The 1930 census reflects that Walter and his brother are living with their mother in Los Angeles, CA. His parents divorced in the 1930s and his mother remarried a John H. Marshall in the latter 1930s. Walter and his mother are present in the Marshall household in the 1940 census.
Newspaper articles in the Fresno Bee and Bakersfield Californian, provide that he married Betty Jayne Gaylord (step-daughter of C.E. Radebaugh) on December 27, 1942. Less that two weeks later, he departed for military service. Years later, his widow married a Clem E. Churchwell.
Military data relates that Walter entered the service on 5 Jan 1943 at Fresno, CA. He was a high school graduate and his home of record was Bakersfield, CA. The rank of Aviation Cadet on his stone implies that he initially entered flight training to be a pilot. Like many other Cadets of that time, he did not complete that program. He was apparently assigned to and graduated from an aerial gunnery school. His USAAF service number was 39691496.
Staff Sergeant Collins arrived in England in March 1944 and was assigned to the 524th Bomb Squadron, 379th Bomb Group (H), at Kimbolton Field. He was placed with a B-17G aircrew that had also just arrived but without their tail gunner (who had a death in the family just prior to departing the U.S.).
Mission records reflect that Sergeant Collins flew the tail gunner position on twenty-eight missions over enemy territory with that same aircrew. Sergeant Collins missed several missions due to illness and subsequently flew with other aircrews to achieve his total missions requirement.
On 12 July 1944, Sergeant Collins was the tail gunner on B-17G, #42-38192, during a bombing mission at Munich, Germany. According to the Missing Air Crew Report, the aircraft sustained heavy flak damage over the target area and was last seen going down in a controlled flight at 1430 hours near Bourg-Bruche, France. The post-war report provides that three of the four engines were lost and the pilot attempted to fly the plane to Switzerland. However, the plane crashed at 1500 hours near the town of Feldburg, approximately 18 kilometers SE of Freiburg-Breisgau, Germany. Eight of the nine aircrew members were killed on impact.
Staff Sergeant Collins was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart Medal, and the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters. After the war, Sergeant Collins' remains were exhumed from the German burial location and re-interred in the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.
In addition to Sergeant Collins, those KIA on that fatal mission were 2Lt Bruce A. Hutchins (Pilot), 2Lt Robert H. Webber (Co-Pilot), 2Lt James R. Haile (Navigator), Sgt Grover J. Bowen (Nose Gunner/Togglier), SSgt Robert L. Shaffer (Radio Op), SSgt George N. White (Engineer/Top Turret Gunner) and Sgt Harry I. Degenhart (Waist Gunner). The lone survivor of the crash, Sgt James L. Stutts (Ball Turret Gunner), was held as a POW until April 1945.
A SIDE NOTE: The primary aircrew, with whom Sergeant Collins' flew 28 missions, all safely returned from the war. That aircrew included my brother, Eugene V. Oxford who was the Bombardier.
For more information and links regarding the gallant men who flew such missions, visit the 379th Bomb Group Association online.
William Ernest Collins (1898 - 1961)
Mary Eula Hendrix Curtis (1900 - 1985)
Betty Jane Gaylord Churchwell (1923 - 2010)
Note: The marker erroneously reflects a rank of Aviation Cadet because the wrong military discharge transcript was used. This error was not unusual for those airmen who did not complete pilot training.
Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery
St. Louis County
Plot: SECTION 79 SITE 404C-D
Maintained by: David Oxford
Originally Created by: Eric Kreft
Record added: Jan 15, 2009
Find A Grave Memorial# 32946560