Gary Lamar Collins – Staff Sergeant, United States Army

No. 839-03
Nov 10, 2003

DoD Identifies Army Casualties

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Staff Sergeant Gary L. Collins, 32, of Hardin, Texas, was killed on November 8, 2003, in Fallujah, Iraq.  Collins was riding in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle when it hit an improvised explosive device.  The soldier died of his injuries.
The incident  is under investigation.

March 2, 2004

The tragedy of war became personal when their once high school friend died November 7, 2003, in Iraq and has prompted a group of former Magnolia High School students to plan an April 8, 2004, memorial service.

The former classmates of 1990 Magnolia High School graduate Staff Sergeant Gary Collins are putting together the memorial service to honor the slain soldier and other Magnolia graduates who have died in U.S. conflicts. Michelle Brady, who attended high school with Collins, said his death has brought the tragedy of war to a personal level.

“You hear these things on the news, happening to other people and you don't think it happens to someone from a little town like Magnolia,” she said. “This has brought it close to home. He was really popular. He was a football player. This makes our troop loses more real.” Collins was killed while riding in a Bradley fighting vehicle that hit an improvised explosive device. He was a member of the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division out of Fort Riley, Kansas.

A memorial service was held at Fort Riley. Another ceremony was held during his burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

Brady and her father, former Magnolia athletic director Rene Hancock, are serving on the eight-person committee putting the April 8 memorial service together. Brady, who was a year older than Collins, was a cheerleader for the football team her dad coached. She said she and Collins were good friends, adding that “in a small school you can be involved in more than one thing and everyone knew what you were doing.”

“Gary had the most incredible personality,” she said. “He was very funny and people would always comment about his blue eyes, that you could almost see through them. He had a beautiful soul and spirit.”

Brady said Collins married his high school sweetheart, Kassandra “Kassie” Kennedy a year after graduating. Although it had been years since Brady last saw the couple, she said she still remembers Collins as “this skinny little high school guy playing football and having a good time.” Various other graduates and teachers who knew Collins are participating in the memorial committee, which is chaired by Meredith Holley. Holley is a close friend of Collins' widow, Kassie. The memorial service will be held at 6:30 p.m. inside the auditorium of Magnolia High School, located on FM 1488. A plaque with Collins' picture and name will be presented to school district officials who will display it in the lobby of the Magnolia Sixth Grade Campus. The campus, located on FM 1774, functioned as the district's high school until the current campus was opened in 2002.

Another plaque, listing the names of all Magnolia graduates who served and died during a U.S. conflict will be displayed in the lobby of the current high school. That plaque will also include information pertaining to Collins.

“Different people that I went to school with thought we should have a memorial for him,” Brady said. “And then we thought, ‘What about all the people who graduated from Magnolia who died during a U.S. conflict? We should have some sort of plaque displayed at the high school for them as well.'”

Brady said the Magnolia High School plaque will have brass plates listing who the soldier was, when they graduated, and the date they died.

“We are hoping to reach out to the community to get that information,” she said. “There are people on the committee who are researching other ways to find out graduates who served in various conflicts and died. We don't want to miss anyone.”

U.S. representative Kevin Brady (R-District 8) and state representative Rob Eissler (R-District 15) are scheduled to attend the memorial service. School district officials will also be in attendance as well as the family and friends of Collins.

Collins' widow, Kassie, grew up in Magnolia but resides in Kansas. She described her husband as a dedicated and outspoken soldier who loved his country.

“If he were alive today, he probably would tell you he had not accomplished any of his goals in life, and I probably would have agreed, at the time,” Kassie said. “But we just didn't realize how many lives Gary affected until he was gone. It is hard to fathom how many people's lives he touched. He probably wouldn't have thought he had done enough for people. But he did. There are soldiers who have said they want to be the soldier that he was.”

Kassie said she and her family, including her two daughters, will attend the memorial service. She said her husband's parents were also planning to attend.

“I hope that students will see his picture and realize that although they may be living in a small town, Gary came out of that town and went on to do great things for himself, his family and for the world and they can too,” she said. “To me, kids should look at him and see that good things can come out of Magnolia.”

The community is invited to the memorial service. For more information, or to add a Magnolia graduate's name to fallen soldiers plaque, contact Brady via e-mail at [email protected] or call 281-320-8025.

November 25, 2003

Soldier with love for Texas buried in Arlington
Sgt. First Class Gary Collins killed by bomb after 2 months in Iraq

Army Sergeant First Class Gary L. Collins of Hardin was buried Tuesday at Arlington National Cemetery alongside other fallen soldiers from the Iraq war, with a small Texas flag resting on his coffin.

Collins, 32, was laid to rest with military honors amid row after neat row of America's war dead on a cold, clear afternoon

Assigned to the Army's 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, Collins died Nov. 8 in the Iraqi city of Fallujah when his Bradley Fighting Vehicle struck what Army officials call an “improvised explosive device.” Based at Fort Riley, Kansas, Collins had left for Iraq on September 5, 2003.

Another soldier traveling with Collins also was killed.

Collins was posthumously both promoted to sergeant first class and awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

As a hearse carrying Collins' casket arrived, a U.S. Army firing party snapped to attention nearby and a six-man Army team carried the flag-draped coffin to the gravesite.

An Army chaplain read an Old Testament passage about King David mourning the death of King Saul. In the text, David laments, “How the mighty have fallen.” The chaplain then read the 23rd Psalm.

As the shadows lengthened, the firing party let loose three volleys, a bugler played taps and the white-gloved casket team presented Collins' wife, Kassandra, and his parents with crisply folded American flags that had covered the coffin. A small flag of Texas was placed on the casket as Kassandra, 32, and her two children, Taylor, 8, and Landry, 6, knelt and reached out to touch the coffin.

Following the brief graveside service, Kassandra Collins told reporters that she had spoken regularly to her husband in weekly telephone calls lasting about 10 minutes each. She would always sign off her conversations by telling of her love for him and concluding with the message “360,” imploring him to keep his wits about him and to look in all directions all the time for potential dangers.

Gary Collins, who had been in the Army 13 years, had planned to make the military his career. Collins, who was certified both as an Airborne specialist and a Ranger, two of the most physically demanding specialties in the military, had planned to become a Ranger instructor. He and his wife had talked about building a log cabin when he returned from Iraq, a place big enough for their kids, dogs and all-terrain vehicles that they liked to take on fishing and hiking journeys.

Kassandra Collins said her husband and his comrades while out on patrol would find the roads of Fallujah laced with explosive devices. “He was frustrated that they couldn't get ahold of everyone that was causing such chaos,” she said.

The couple met in high school at Magnolia, where they began dating in their junior year.

They were married nearly 11 years. Kassandra said she wanted a Texas flag on the casket because her husband was proud of his heritage. At a memorial service in Iraq, a Texas flag was draped over a Bradley in his honor, she said.

Kassandra Collins said that after Gary returned from a particularly long deployment to South Korea, they decided to take their first-ever family vacation. This past year they went to Branson, Mo., where they hiked and had picnics with their girls. “I was lucky to have him as long as I did,” she said.

Don Collins, Gary's father, remembered his son as a focused, athletic man who loved the Army and was bent on ensuring that the men under his command would survive Iraq.

Shortly before Gary left for Iraq, the elder Collins expressed to his son his concern for his safety. “He said, `Dad, the only thing that I hope and pray I can do is to make the right decision that I don't get any of my men hurt or killed,' ” Don Collins, of Jasper, said in an interview.

Gary Collins desperately wanted to go to Iraq, where the American military led an assault last spring that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime.

“That's where he wanted to be and if anybody had stopped him, he would never have spoken to them,” the elder Collins said.

Gary had the opportunityto become a warrant officer. “But he didn't want that,” Collins said. “He wanted to remain in the infantry.”

Texas Soldier Laid to Rest
Sergeant, Killed by Iraq Bomb, Buried at Arlington
Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Army Sergeant First Class Gary L. Collins spent his last days in Iraq combating the very thing that killed him: roadside bombs.

In his last days based in Fallujah, Collins and his fellow soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division discovered and deactivated hundreds of “improvised explosive devices,” or IEDs, as they are known in military parlance. Ultimately, however, Collins, of Hardin, Texas, was killed November 8, 2003, when the Bradley Fighting Vehicle he was riding in hit one of the devices.

“He was frustrated they couldn't get a hold of whoever was causing this frustration,” said his wife, Kassie Collins, 31, who last spoke with him 21/2 weeks ago. “They were like leaves — you pick one up and then there's 20,000 more of them.”

Kassie Collins, the couple's two young daughters and about 30 friends and relatives gathered late yesterday afternoon at Arlington National Cemetery to lay Gary Collins to rest.

Collins, who was buried in a grave bordered by tall willow oak trees, is the 41st casualty of Operation Iraqi Freedom to be buried at the cemetery. In an unusual twist to what is normally a formal exercise, a Texas flag commemorating Collins's home state was laid on the wooden casket at the end of the ceremony.

Arlington National Cemetery's policy requiring reporters and photographers to stand about 150 feet from the grave during services made it difficult to hear the eulogy. But words such as “valor,” “sacrifice” and “freedom” could be heard amid the wind and the commercial airplanes flying overhead during the service.

“How the mighty have fallen,” the chaplain said at one point, citing an Old Testament verse.

Kassie Collins, a medical records director at an assisted living facility near Fort Riley, Kansas, accepted a Purple Heart and Bronze Star on her husband's behalf. Gary Collins was a staff sergeant during combat and was posthumously promoted. The couple's daughters, Taylor, 8, and Landry, 6, clad in matching powder blue jackets, crouched before their father's coffin as mourners dispersed.

At the end of the ceremony, Kassie Collins, wearing her husband's dog tags around her neck, held an impromptu news conference to talk about her husband. She said she signed all of her letters to him with “360,” as in, “he better have his eyes looking around 360 degrees all the time.” She spoke of their dream of one day building a log cabin by a lake in Texas, and how the two met in the eighth grade and began dating their junior year at Magnolia High School in Magnolia, Texas, about 40 miles northwest of Houston.

Collins, who had an athletic build, blue eyes and black hair, lived an all-American life at Magnolia High, where he was captain of the football team. He was voted the “class favorite” all four years and once the “most flirtatious,” said Sharon Rosales, a Magnolia teacher.

One of Collins's more unusual activities, she said, was his role as an “escort” for the school's fiercely competitive 60-member dance team, which she coached. His duties included taping the girls' ankles after their strenuous routines, carrying large equipment such as props and walking them to the bathroom when the team was performing out of town.

“All the girls thought he was adorable,” she said. “But he was humorous and put them at ease.”

As the nation celebrates Veterans Day, Kassie Collins has joined the group that is painfully aware of the high cost of freedom.

She is mourning the death of her husband — her high school sweetheart from Magnolia whom she married 11 years ago and was father of her two young daughters.

Her husband, Staff Sergeant Gary Collins, 32, was killed Saturday while riding in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle that rolled over a makeshift explosive device concealed on a road in Fallujah, Iraq.

“We knew he was going into a hostile area, but he was 100 percent U.S. Army. He was ready to go,” said Collins, still numb from her loss as she secludes herself at her husband's base at Fort Riley, Kansas.

“It's never easy being a military wife. Your husband is gone all the time, but it was who he wanted to be and we supported him.”

She and her husband first met in the eighth grade but did not date until they were juniors at Magnolia High School in Montgomery County. He was born a few miles to the east in the small town of Hardin in Liberty County.

“He was very popular — played football, track and baseball and we were both on the homecoming court,” Collins recalled.

On a “snap judgment,” he enlisted in the Army straight out of high school without telling anyone, she said. They married a year later on February 2, 1992, and she has no regrets.

“You get used to being a military spouse. There's military life and civilian life. They are separated out,” she said. “We both loved the military life.”

Her husband was one of the few infantrymen on the base that was both Airborne and Ranger qualified, she said. He also served eight months in Bosnia before being sent to Iraq two months ago.

“Everyone looked up to him. His soldiers loved him and so did I, … I still do,” said Collins.

He was also a great father to their two daughters, 6-year-old Landry and 8-year-old Taylor, she added.

In many ways, Collins is as brave about her future as her husband was about going into battle.

She said she has no complaints about the life they chose.

While she worried about his safety there, she was proud of the job he did. “He told me that he had accomplished a lot. They had captured a lot of people with few injuries,” she said.

“He loved his country.”

A memorial service will be held on the base Friday for Collins. He will be posthumously promoted to Sergeant 1st Class and later will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery as he had requested, military officials said.

Collins is the 13th soldier from Fort Riley to die from the hostilities in Iraq. He was a member of the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division.

His widow knows he may not be the last. She also knows that she and her children have not yet felt the full impact of her husband's death.

However, she is basking in the care and love of the other military wives.

“It's like a family here,” Collins said. “Everyone in the company has been fabulous to me. They make me sit and not do anything right now.”

Soldier from Texas killed in Iraq


A soldier from Texas was killed in Iraq, Department of Defense officials said Monday.

Staff Sergeant Gary L. Collins, 32, of Hardin was killed November 8, 2003, while riding in a Bradley fighting vehicle that hit an improvised explosive device, DOD officials said.

Collins was a member of the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, based in Fort Riley, Kansas.

“He believed in what the military stands for and I guess in a way he felt like he was protecting the world,” his father, Don Collins of Sam Rayburn, said in a story in the Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise.

He said his son was a professional soldier and had been in the infantry since getting out of boot camp.

“The thing I always saw with him — he was very much a man of honor and a good young man,” Don Collins said. “I figured his odds of surviving were way better than the average person that hadn’t had the training he had.”

“He was just a very dedicated young man that felt like the cause he was fighting was a just cause,” Don Collins said. “His spirit will live with me — even though it’s a big hole in my heart — with me forever. He was just a hell of a man.”

Gary Collins graduated from Magnolia High School. Survivors include his wife, Kassie, and two daughters, 8-year-old Taylor and 6-year-old Landry.

A memorial service was scheduled for November 11 at Fort Riley. Collins will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, his father said.

A woman who answered the phone at the Collins home referred questions to the family’s casualty affairs officer, Captain Anthony Beville.

Beville said Collins had been in the Army 12 years and in Iraq since September.

He was commander of the vehicle in which he was riding, Beville said. He said the device that hit the vehicle was like a homemade bomb.

“There are a multitude of varieties that the Iraqis are putting together and thinking of new ways to make them all the time. It’s one of the most prominent causes of most of the deaths.”

Collins’ gunner also was killed in the accident and another soldier was wounded, he said.

Collins was posthumously promoted to sergeant first class, Beville said. He was an Army Ranger and had received seven Army Achievement medals, three Army Commendation medals and had a prestigious expert infantry badge, Beville said.

Hardin is a town of about 600 people some 55 miles northeast of Houston.

Ft. Riley soldier killed in Iraq

A Fort Riley soldier died in Iraq on Saturday of injuries suffered when his Bradley Fighting Vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device, the Department of Defense announced Monday.

Staff Sergeant Gary L. Collins, 32, of Hardin, Texas, was killed during combat in Fallujah, Iraq. The incident is under investigation, Fort Riley officials said.

Collins joined the Army in January 1992 and had been stationed at Fort Riley since July 2002. He was assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry, 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division.

Collins was assigned to the unit as a squad leader and deployed to Iraq in September 2003. He is the 13th Fort Riley soldier killed while fighting in support of the conflict in Iraq.


Daughters Taylor, 8, (L) and Landry stand with their mother Kassandra as
the flag-draped casket of Sergeant First Class Gary L. Collins is carried to
its burial site during his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, November 25, 2003.


An honor guard carries the casket of Staff Sergeant Gary L. Collins of
Hardin, Texas, past his family and friends including daughter Landry, 6, center,
widow Kassandra, second from right, and Brigadier General. Philip Coker,
Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Developments, U.S. Army, right, during funeral
services at Arlington National Cemetery, Tuesday. November 25, 2003.


A soldier puts the Texas flag back onto the casket of Sereant First Class Gary L. Collins
after the wind blew it off during his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery


Mitch Vanya, a friend of Staff Sergeant Gary L. Collins of Hardin, Texas,
places a Texas flag on Collins' casket during funeral services at Arlington National Cemetery,
Tuesday, November 25, 2003.


Landry Collins, 6, looks up at her mother Kassandra as her sister Taylor, 8,
kneels with them at the casket of Sergeant First Class Gary L. Collins during
his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery


Kassandra Collins, background, widow of Staff Sergeant Gary L. Collins
and their daughter Taylor, 8, pause at Collin's casket during funeral services at Arlington National Cemetery


  • DATE OF BIRTH: 05/18/1971
  • DATE OF DEATH: 11/08/2003

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