B.T. Collins - Irish American Hero
Twelve years ago we lost an American patriot, Assemblyman Brien Thomas Collins. The irascible Irishman was much loved in Sacramento. I hope to host a week long tribute with some commentary by others who loved him as much as I did.
Of Better Men …
Memorial Day 2002
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. It is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service, securing the blessings of liberty for posterity.
In March of 1993 I wrote and read a eulogy to a unique solider who survived extraordinary hardship and sacrifice and died not on the battlefield in combat (although he came close to that and the price of his survival was an arm and a leg). His name was B.T. Collins. I have updated it only slightly.
B.T. Collins was a genuine rarity. He was a man of myriad subtleties. He was a true Renaissance man in every sense; he was a warrior, a leader, and a compassionate and loyal friend. He had a crusty curmudgeon exterior, which was a thin veil for a sensitive, caring humanist.
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.
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."
B.T. never knew Dr. Humphrey or Jack Hoban, but in ways subtle and stark he lived that creed.
I really liked the guy. Despite his considerable accomplishments, he was unique in many ways: He was a politician who clung to the truth despite whatever negative impact it might bring to him personally. He was painfully, and consistently HONEST.
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.
Once upon a time, before health reasons compelled him to stop, he used to drink a bit ... OK, perhaps more than a bit. He could and did put the booze away. His language, in private, and sometimes in public, was occasionally excessively colorful ... okay, so he could and would be obscene ... often funny, and not infrequently brilliantly candid.
I cried the Friday night his death was announced.
B.T. was an original: honest, funny, compassionate, loyal, and both simple and complex. I know B.T.'s one regret might have been that HE didn't get to deliver his own eulogy.
He and I were supposed to get together in April of '93 for dinner. We had been looking forward to trading Special Forces stories and swapping lies about guys we knew who wore the funny hat. That never happened ... but the date remained on my calendar.
One clear summer day I drove up into the Sierra and pitched a camp on a hill overlooking a secluded lake. B.T. wasn't with me, but his memory certainly was. In his memory I took the cap off a bottle of what he called 'brown tea' and threw it into the fire.
Alone in the wilderness I shared the bottle with B.T.'s memory and toasted the things that remain important: Duty, Honor, Country ... friends, family, and fallen comrades ...
I drank to Chris Christianson, Rich Kelly, Bull Simons, Rocky Versace, the names on the black wall, and of course, the guy who lived the motto De Oppresso Libre … B.T. COLLINS.
Many years later I had occasion to speak to a class of newly commissioned Army ROTC graduates. I suggested to them, and now I suggest it to you, that you read what B.T. wrote for Reader's Digest about "The Courage of Sam Bird." Especially today, it is worth reading.
B.T. said, "I didn't learn about leadership and the strength of character it requires from an Ivy League graduate course. I learned by watching one tall captain with proud bearing and penetrating eyes."
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.
I told that group of new Army officers, DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY are not just words. They are a gift that will be part of you regardless of whether you become a career officer and command a Ranger Regiment, or serve in the Reserve Components as a weekend warrior. We who have taken the oath are ALL warriors.
Copyright Geoff Metcalf
B.T.'s sister, Maureen Collins Baker, will be at the Sacramento Fair Oaks Blvd Borders on Wednesday, June 4th, at 7pm autographing her new book, Outrageous Hero, The B.T. Collins Story. See you there!
Here's info about the book