General Excellence

Posted: Sunday, April 8, 2012 12:00 am

Young cadets P.T. Hill and Harry Collins graduated from Western Military Academy in Alton and rose through the ranks to become famous generals in World War II.
Collins graduated from Western Military in 1915 and became an Army general who commanded U.S. forces landing in the historic D-Day invasion in World War II.


Hill graduated from Western in 1914 and was a decorated general who commanded Camp Lejeune, Calif., training thousands of Marines who battled Japanese forces in World War II.
Collins and Hill are among an honor roll of dozens of war heroes who graduated from Western Military Academy on Seminary Avenue in Upper Alton, said historian C.B. Jackson, a 1968 graduate of Western.
Western Military is nationally known for training outstanding leaders in the annals of U.S. military history, Jackson said.
He began an intensive study of Western Military history when he retired after 30 years as a history instructor at Triad High School.
Western Military Academy was founded in 1879 in historic Upper Alton by Jackson's great-grandfather, Albert M. Jackson, a pioneer in military training. The academy trained hundreds of young military leaders until it closed in 1971.
The red brick buildings of the former academy stand in Upper Alton as a symbol of its prominence in U.S. military history.
The United States was sending troops to battle enemy forces in Europe in World War I when P.T. Hill and Harry Collins were 15-year-old cadets at Western Military Academy.
Hill was a star player on Western's topnotch football team who defeated opponents on the campus athletic field. He was an outstanding cadet in learning military tactics, an achievement which helped him years later to train U.S. Marines in World War II.
People who attended the 1914 graduation ceremony at Western applauded Hill, who was awarded a diploma as valedictorian of his class. After graduating from the University of Oklahoma in 1918, he followed his love of flying. He enrolled in flight school and became a Marine pilot flying a bi-wing 1918 model U.S. fighter plane.
When World War I ended, Hill stayed in the Marines, flying seaplanes in the Azores and surveying for Alaskan coal mines.
When World War II started, Hill showed his excellence in service and rose to the rank of general. He was selected to be commander of the Camp Lejeune base to train Marines who went to battle in the war.
As a military leader, he served in the air corps, infantry, artillery and the quartermaster general of the Marine Corps. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his excellence in commanding troops in the war.
In 1964, General Hill returned to Western Military as the speaker of the graduating class.
"For all that I have accomplished, the foundation was laid here at Western," he told the graduates.
Harry Collins, his friend and cadet at Western in 1915, excelled in his studies of military tactics. He was applauded as an outstanding horseman at the Alton academy.
After graduating from the University of Chicago, Collins was commissioned in the Army and shipped overseas to fight with U.S. forces in World War I.
When World War II started, Collins was chosen to be a general in the battlefields of Europe. His outstanding record as an officer earned him a promotion to general and commander of the 42nd Infantry Division, known as the famed Rainbow Division of World War II.
Infantry soldiers wore the red, yellow and blue rainbow-colored shoulder patch on their uniforms. Under Collins' command, U.S. infantry soldiers were decorated for heroic action.
Collins and his soldiers defended a 31-mile sector along the Rhine River in daily battles with the enemy. They showed their courage in defending the territory with counterattacks against Adolf Hitler's elite Nazi troops.
Collins' Army division broke through the enemy strongholds of the Siegfried Line and crossed the Rhine River. Collins' Rainbow Division soldiers liberated Salzburg and set prisoners free from the inhumane Nazi-controlled Dachau concentration camp.
Collins was a war hero who was awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star for bravery; French authorities presented the famous French medal Croix de Guerre to Collins for courage and outstanding leadership of his 42nd Division.
Following the war, Gen. Collins served with the military attache in Moscow. In 1954 he retired and settled in Salzburg, where he was made an honorary citizen for his heroism in liberating the city from enemy forces.
Before the invasion of Europe in World War II, Collins returned to Western Military Academy in Alton to speak to the graduating class of 1944, said Jackson, the Western Military historian.
"I would be proud to have any of you serve with me," Collins told the graduating Western Military cadets.

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