Willard “Bill” Collins, Sr., FE
18th SOS, Da Nang
Willard “Bill” Collins was born September 18, 1932 in Santa Barbara, California. He graduated from Camas High School in Camas, Washington in 1952, the University of Washington in 1956, and finally settled down in Marshall, Texas, calling it home.
As told by Bill’s son, Bill Collins, Jr, “Dad liked to fly, and had his private pilot license by the time he was age 15. He had been in the Marines as a crewman on a C-54, and when he got out of the Marines, the Air Force was a good choice for him to keep flying. Dad didn’t talk a lot about his missions, but I do remember him telling me about several.
On one of their mission they were in line to take off behind some F-4s. They didn’t know it at the time but a 500 pound bomb had come off the wing of one of the F-4s and had skidded to a stop on the runway. While they were on their take-off roll the pilot saw the bomb on the runway and was barely able to avoid hitting the bomb. Dad said they thought were going to hit it with the landing gear.
Another time I heard Dad and a friend talking about some of his missions. I don’t know when or where this took place but they were talking about a mission to provide support for a small SF camp. He talked about how they had done several orbits around the camp, and the radio operator called to tell they had many dead VC all around the camp and to thank them for their help.
On several occasions I heard Dad talk about this mission. While they were getting ready for takeoff they were parked on the runway when the pilot came over the intercom and called out rockets, rockets, rockets. The rockets were being walked down the runway and headed toward their aircraft. Everyone had to stop what they were doing and get out of the plane. He said when he got out of the plane he ran for a ditch on the side of the runway and dove in. Dad said the ditch was full of water and he couldn’t put his head down. So he said he had to get down as low as possible and just watch the rockets keep coming. He said he started praying that the rockets would stop because when he looked up he saw he was under the wing of the aircraft and it was full of fuel and ammo. The rockets did finally stop.”
Bill was also a Baptist minister, and worked with many orphanages around the areas he lived.