Remembering LT Herbert Collins

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Lieutenant Herbert Collins, a Coast Guard legend and the last surviving member of the all-black Pea Island life saving station succumbed to cancer on Sunday evening.

Lieutenant Herbert Collins as a surfman at the all-black life saving station at Pea Island, North Carolina during Word War II. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)
Lieutenant Herbert Collins as a surfman at the all-black life saving station at Pea Island, North Carolina during Word War II. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Born in 1921, Collins enlisted in 1939 at the age of 18 and would spend 37 years serving his country as a Coast Guardsman. His entry into the service was something of a family tradition. Upon his retirement in 1976, the Collins family held the record for the longest continuous service by a family starting in 1880 when his grandfather Joseph Berry joined the Coast Guard. Collins’ career began at boot camp in Fort Lauderdale, Florida where he became a seaman. He would retire a lieutenant in Portsmouth, Virginia.

 “As a young kid, I would watch the surfmen come home and always admired their uniform,” Collins told the Capitol Area Coast Guard Retiree Council in 2008, “and I said to myself that I was going to get in the Coast Guard and Pea Island Station.”

Collins fulfilled his dream when he was transferred to Pea Island as a surfman for the duration of World War II. He served there until the station was decommissioned in 1947. Surfman Collins witnessed and became a part of history when he closed the doors and handed over the keys to the Pea Island life saving station.

Lieutenant Herbert Collins with Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Skip Bowen. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)
Lieutenant Herbert Collins with Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Skip Bowen. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

During his career, Collins service coincided with the racial integration of the Coast Guard. He rose to the rank of Warrant Officer in 1959 on his way to W-4 in 1968 and was commissioned as a Lieutenant in 1969.

In remembering Lieutenant Collins, Admiral Thad Allen wrote, “Lieutenant Collins service to the Coast Guard and our nation alone is significant, especially in light of the challenges that African Americans faced as the service was integrated. Yet his legacy runs even deeper in our collective heritage as he was also the grand nephew of Dorman Pugh, one of seven Gold Life Saving Medal recipients from the Pea Island rescue of the crew of the stricken schooner E.S. Newman in 1896.”

A memorial service will be held in Silver Spring , Maryland on March 26, 2010. Click here for more information on the service.

UPDATE: Earlier today, Guardians paid their final respects to LT Collins at a memorial service. Click here for more.

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