|Birth: ||Oct. 17, 1940|
New York County
New York, USA
|Death: ||Mar. 19, 1993|
Born Brien Thomas Collins, but known as B.T., I did not know him for very long or very well, but he was and still is one of those people who live on in your memory. He made a lasting impression on everyone he met. He was definitely a man's man, but he related well to everyone. He had survived Vietnam after losing an arm and a leg. What would be a life altering event in a negative way for most people became the opposite for B.T.: after recovering from his injuries, he moved to California to attend college, then law school. As he put it, "in the years that followed, whenever something ‘bothered' me, I simply had to do it. I learned to ski, parachuted again and went around the world for three summers. He simply refused to allow what happened to him to limit him. He had unlimited courage and that opened up unlimited possibilities to him. From 1979- 1981 he ran the Civilian Conservation Corp in California. Athough he was conservative, then Governor Jerry (Moonbeam) Brown picked B.T. for his Chief of the Staff, which shows what a brilliant politician the governor really was. B.T.'s remarks and actions are still the stuff of legend in California politics. The best example is when he drank a glass of Malathion to show that it was not toxic. He also had a set of rules he absolutely lived by. I know because he sent me one of his handwritten thank you letters because I wrote to him about a speech he had written. He wrote back to me. It was hard to read, but he had taken the time to write. So here are B.T.'s "RULES:"
"One day over lunch, B.T. gave me his basic rules: 'You stand up for your people. You dig your own foxhole. Don't tell your best friend who to marry. Never argue with a cop. Always send handwritten thank you notes. The best friends you're ever going to make are the ones you don't like in the beginning. The best friend that will never let you down is integrity.'" From the Washington Post, 4-3-93, Mark Shields.
I cannot resist quoting him at length from an article he wrote for the Wall Street Journal called "My Friend In Need". His writing was always brilliantly succinct: "Dick drove me back to the hospital. After four hours in Labor Day traffic, he pulled up to a restaurant near the hospital. I stiffened. Dick pretended to ignore my paranoia. 'Want to eat?, I'm starved, and I've got a long drive home.I'm not hungry,' I replied. 'I'll just wait in the car.'"
"He put his hand on my shoulder, his eyes directly on mine. 'Look, you're my friend and I'm proud of you, even though I hate that war. Now, let's try it. You hop in the wheelchair. I'll wheel you up to a booth. You hop out, and we'll eat. Okay? If it gets too bad, we'll just leave. I promise. I guarantee you it won't be half as bad as you think.'"
"And it was not half bad at all. It was my baptism of fire all over again. The first parachute jump. The first firefight. I survived. The following summer, while still in the hospital, I spent another weekend at the beach. Now I had a new hook and wooden leg, and I painfully negotiated my way to a spot in the sand. Kick, remembering how much I loved the surf when we were teens, asked, 'Ready to hit the waves? No, I think I'll just read. Does it bother you?' he said. 'Then, guess we'd better do it!'"
Off went the leg and arm, and I held on to his shoulder and hopped down to the waves. I never looked back.
I moved to California that year to attend college, then law school. In the years that followed, whenever something 'bothered' me, I simply had to do it. I learned to ski, parachuted again and went around the world for three summers."
"From 1979 to 1981, I ran the California Conservation Corps, a work program for kids ages 18 to 23. At the end of 'basic training,' I would always ask the corps members if they had seen The Deer Hunter. Those who know the film invariably thought it was about Vietnam. 'No, I would do anything for you 'unquestioningly.'"
I met my deer hunter 37 years ago, though Dickie will insist when he reads this that it was 35. And I will point out that having him for a friend wasn't half as bad as I thought it would be.
I think what is most remarkable about B.T. is not that he was injured and survived, but what he did after his injury. It was almost as if he deliberately defied the pain and any limitations that having lost an arm and a leg would have created for most people and participated in very physical endeavors to demonstrate his strength. The impression that is left is that of a tremendously charismatic leader who had intelligence, charm, strength and great character and a desire to seek justice. As Geoff Metcalf wrote in his memorial day address in 2002, called Of Better Men … "as a Special Forces Officer he wore a unit crest on his uniform, which contains the Latin motto: De Oppresso Liber. More than a unit motto, it became his lifelong credo: ‘To Free the Oppressed.' He lived that motto in the humid jungles of Vietnam and in the hot Sacramento summers in the constant skirmishes he fought in the halls of the State capitol. And he never attempted to protect himself by shrouding the truth or positioning himself in a more attractive light. He was a conservative republican but before being elected to the California Assembly he worked for California Governor Jerry Brown as his Chief of Staff. Dr. Robert Jarvick once wrote: ‘Leaders are visionaries with a poorly developed sense of fear and no concept of the odds against them. They make things happen.' THAT was B.T. Collins."
When he died about 13 years ago, he was mourned by the entire state of California. Among his numerous accomplishments, he had been the Chief of Staff for California governor Jerry Brown and as a Republican at that. He donated blood and in fact, became the Sacramento Valley Blood Bank Chairman. He also dunned everyone he could for one of his favorite projects called W.E.A.V.E. for Women Escaping a Violent Environment. In 1993, he died in office as a legislator for the state of California. He is buried at East Lawn Memorial Cemetery in Sacramento, California. At the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Sacramento, someone left his own medals and a note for B.T. "You more than anyone made me proud to have worn these." Although he probably is as much a casualty of the war as any killed in action, but not recognized as are so many, I do not think he would want a tragic legacy. I know his would be one of optimism and humor. He was as uniquely colorful, quirky, tragic and brilliant a person as has ever worked in politics. He was only 52 when he died of a heart attack . As reporter Mark Shields wrote, "and he left thousands much better for having known him. The world is a better, more humane and a more fun place for his having been here."
I really wonder what he would make of the world we find ourselves in and the unadulterated harshness of the current political climate. After enduring the jungles of Vietnam, I am sure he would have brilliantly navigated the corridors of Washington politics. I believe he accomplished much in a relatively short life and I think his example of self-sacrifice and that of his dear friend and comrade in arms, Sam Bird, are worth following. His life was lived according to the special forces motto: "You've never lived until you've almost died.That freedom has a flavor that the protected will never know.'" They were after all, warriors in the purest sense, but also were kind and generous. The example provided by their leadership is far superior to those we have seen during the last ten years in the headlines. We need more people like B.T. Collins. I want his leadership legacy to live on.
This poem about a soldier sums up B.T.'s life and what he stood for:
Charles M. Province wrote a poem called "The Soldier."
It is the soldier, not the reporter,
who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet,
who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer,
who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier, not the lawyer,
who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the soldier,
who salutes the flag,
who serves under the flag,
and whose coffin is draped by the flag,
who allows the protester to burn the flag.
A close friend wrote of his death he thought that B.T.'s big regret would have been to not be able to deliver his own eulogy. And what a eulogy it would have been. Oddly enough, three days after B.T. died, a close friend of his also died of a heart attack. His friend, Sheriff John Duffy, another irascible Irishman and I were planning to get together when he returned to California to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day. I have always thought that B.T. and Sheriff Duffy got together to play poker instead. They were cut from the same cloth. Both were honest and loyal and cared about the people who worked for them, but did not suffer fools. So, somehow or other, I believe they ended up in the same place at almost the same time. When we cross over, we will find the answer.
Here is a link to a article B.T. wrote about another great American, Sam Bird: http://www.geoffmetcalf.com/sambird_20010526.html
Here is his site on findagrave:
Special thanks to Senior Trooper Dennis Deel for sponsoring B.T.'s site. Special thanks to Jolie Braun for sending pictures of his tombstone and memorial in Sacramento. Anyone who can send his birth date, please do. He remains an enigma....
It has been almost 20 years since BT's untimely death and I was pleased to find out that there is a book out about BT called the Outrageous Hero. I suppose in the phony PC world we currently inhabit, someone as pure and straightforward as BT would appear to be outrageous, especially since he worked for one of the most liberal governors ever, Jerry Brown. He never felt the need to protect himself as a conservative Republican surrounded by Liberals or as I like to call them Lieberals. He was comfortable in his own skin and fearless when it came to expressing his point of view. He was rare in those times and even much rarer now. I do not think it is just his outrageousness that is the essence of his heroism or the fact that he volunteered to go to Vietnam when many people were against the war. Having not even read the book yet, I have to say that a geneticist would say that BT had the risk gene and earlier people would say he wanted to join for adventure. I am sure that may have played a part in his decision, but most of all I think he wanted to help people he considered oppressed. Many people enter law enforcement to make a difference and when they find out that is not what the job is about become embittered. BT never became embittered and never complained.
I found his attitude about his injuries one of the most heroic aspects to this complicated man. The manner in which is he faced his injuries and never ever, ever gave up is admirable to me. Finally, everywhere he went the made a difference, from Vietnam to Sacramento. His obvious idealism as a Special Forces officer exemplified by the motto: "De Oppresso Liber-To Free the Oppressed." He lived the motto and I have to agree with Geoff Metcalf (http://archive.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2002/5/28/35951.shtml), who wrote a Eulogy for BT. And in an article entitled "Of Better Men", he wrote "I have often quoted ‘The Warrior Creed' of the late Dr. Robert Humphrey as crystallized by Jack Hoban:
"Wherever I go, everyone is a little bit safer because I'm there. Wherever I go, everyone in need has a friend.
Whenever I return home, everyone is happy I'm there."
"To lose a younger brother leaves a hole. To lose a BT Collins leaves an abyss. It was as if our world cracked open and we all fell in. He consumed any space he entered with sheer size, noise and ideology. Often spending time with him, you staggered forth thinking, I need a drink, a therapist, my mother. My God! Who is this guy anyway? ~ (Outrageous Hero, p.5)
"In the end beneath the hoopla and hurrah, beyond the warrior, inside the hero, he was only human. 'I hope,' he confided, near the last of his days.... 'I just hope they won't forget me.' Never."
Truer words were never written about BT and in these wimpy times, it is ever more apparent to me that real men like BT are becoming as rare as honest men. I hope the millennial generation lives up to our expectations and is more like BT Collins and keeps the torch of liberty held high. It would be disappointing if people like Sam Bird and BT died protecting liberty abroad only to see it greatly eroded by overreaching government in our own nation. God Bless them both.
Note: link for Sam Bird- http://www.geoffmetcalf.com/sambird_20010526.html
East Lawn Memorial Park
Created by: Mickey
Record added: Feb 25, 2006
Find A Grave Memorial# 13434359
God Bless you and the family.|
Added: Nov. 30, 2013
Sorry I missed your birthday, BT. God Bless!|
Added: Nov. 5, 2013
The Board of Directors of the Calif Military Museum has officially approved the renaming of the main floor the CPT Brien Thomas Collins floor but the dedication will probably not take place until Feb 2014. They are expecting a pretty big turn out of digni...(Read more)|
Added: Aug. 26, 2013
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