One of my first phone calls as the editor of The Windham Eagle was from a man who wanted to speak to the editor, the real editor. I assured him I was the editor. After he explained who he was and that he liked to write about history, I told him that we welcomed letters to the editor.
|Fred Collins will be greatly missed|
After that, the paper and I received close to 200 letters from Fred Collins. Some were personal to me and others we printed in the paper on everything from his childhood growing up in Windham, to his adventures as a Marine in the South Pacific during WWII. All were addressed as “Editor Libby” or “Chief Editor Libby”.
Fred’s letters to The Windham Eagle were full of patriotism, pride and sage advice. They were always typewritten in all capital letters on an old manual typewriter. Each letter had pictures photocopied on to it and were written in a rhyming pattern that could be heard when the letter was read out loud.
“Collins was born in 1926. When he was four years old, he was given up for adoption due to family health issues and financial concerns. He became a ward of the town, and lived with the Libby family on a small farm in Windham,” wrote reporter Elizabeth Richards after her May 2014 interview with him.
Fred was a Boy Scout and then a volunteer for 77 years. He joined the Scouts when he was 12 and put his skills learned to good use. He saved a girl from drowning at a Sunday school picnic by the Pleasant River when he was a boy.
“That was a highlight of a life, saving somebody’s life,” said Fred. “You do a good turn, it will return to you.”
Everything he did had meaning in his life. His room was filled with memories of a lifetime spent serving, be it in the Marines, as a Freemason or as a Scout.
“It was a time in my life when a youngster needed guidelines to living. Most everything at the time - a mystery. How could a young boy handle situations that seemed so unrealistic? (The work horse died on our farm, the well went dry, a friend couldn’t walk and spent her life in a wheelchair),” he wrote in one letter to the paper when his Scoutmaster, Mac Lyons, died. “Truly, it was the formative years - lessons learned had a tendency to cling to one for a life time. This is why I have held the ‘Boy Scout Program’ in high esteem. ‘Be prepared’ is our motto! Today as I live my life, I spend a great deal of attention on being prepared.”
I looked forward to receiving his weekly letters and if we didn’t hear from him for a while, I got concerned, but then another letter would arrive and he’d have a new address.
His last letter came to my home a month or so ago, to tell me that his stories were going to be published in a local history book. He loved to see his work in print. Through the letters in The Windham Eagle, he was asked to speak to local students on his experiences in the military and he shared freely. He often spoke about being on the beach at Iwo Jima as a 16 year old, because his birth certificate had been lost and he told the Marines he was 18.
“You can hear all kinds of stories, but if you’ve got somebody that was there, it means a lot more,” he said. Fred was one of many WWII veterans featured in “Neighborhood Heroes: Life Lessons from Maine’s Greatest Generation”, written by 18-year-old former Westbrook High School student Morgan Rielly. Fred was also a member of the American Legion Post 148 in Windham.
Fred was a believer that God was what protected him and comforted him throughout his life. He oftenwrote about his faith in his letters as well.
When he no longer could live with his wife, Geneva, who he was married to for 67 years, he was very upset, traveling to visit her as often as he could until she passed away last year. They had six children and many grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Fred always had a pad of paper beside his bed to capture inspiration when it came to him. “I have a great feeling for the Constitution and trying to keep America on track. In a subtle way, I like to put that on paper,” Collins said.
Collins passed away at his daughter Martha’s house after having a full day making his own meals, going for a walk and then sitting down to watch TV. He fell asleep and never woke up.
A graveside service with military honors will be held at 11 a.m. Monday, July 17, at Woodlawn Cemetery, Westbrook. Fred Collins was 91 years old.