J. Lawton Collins was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on 1 May 1896. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1917, was commissioned a second lieutenant, and was assigned to the 22d Infantry. In 1917, he was promoted to first lieutenant and to temporary captain. In 1918, he was made a full captain and a temporary major. Collins led the 3d Battalion, 22d Infantry in France in 1919 and then served as assistant chief of staff, G-3, of America Forces in Germany until 1921. That year, he married Gladys Easterbrook. From 1921 to 1925, he taught chemistry at West Point. The following year he graduated from the company officer course at the Infantry School at Fort Benning. In 1927, he graduated from the advanced course at the Field Artillery School at Fort Sill.
Collins taught weapons and tactics at the Infantry School from 1927 to 1931. In 1932, he became a full major and served with the Philippine Division from 1933 to 1934. In 1937 and 1938, he graduated from Army Industrial College and the Army War College. Afterwards, he was an instructor at the Army War College In 1940, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and served as chief of staff of the VII Corps until 1941. He was successively promoted to the temporary ranks of colonel, brigadier general, and major general in 1941, 1942, and 1943 respectively. From 1941 to 1942, Collins was the Hawaiian Department chief of staff. He led the 25th Division on Oahu and during the assault on Guadalcanal. He was transferred to the European Theater, and commanded VII Corps in the Normandy invasion and Western European operations. In 1945, he was made a temporary lieutenant general and permanent brigadier general. After Germany’s surrender, he served as deputy commanding general and chief of staff of Army Ground Forces.
After the war, Collins served as the head of public information of the Army, deputy (later vice) Army chief of staff, and was promoted to temporary general and full major general in 1948. Collins served as Army Chief of Staff from 16 August 1949 to 15 August 1953. As Chief of Staff, Collins led the U.S. Army during the Korean War, supervised the Army’s operations of the railroads, and helped develop the Army’s role in the newly-created North Atlantic Treaty Organization. After serving as Chief of Staff, Collins was a representative to the Military Committee and Standing Group of NATO until 1954. From 1954 to 1955, Collins served as a special U.S. representative to Vietnam, a position with the rank of ambassador. Briefly, he returned to NATO duty before retiring in 1956. Collins died in Washington, D.C., on 12 September 1987.