Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

September 8, 2011

Display of honor

Collier’s awards going on display at Highlands Museum

WORTHINGTON — As one of two Medal of Honor recipients from Greenup County, John W. “Jack” Collier’s name will forever serve as an example of a hero who sacrificed his own life to save others in the heat of battle during the Korean War.

Beyond his recognition as a recipient of the nation’s highest military honor, however, most of the details about Collier’s life as a local boy have been lost to time.

Even surviving family members say they have only a few memories to accompany Collier’s commendations and medals.

His place in local history, however, will be expanded in the weeks ahead as members of his family share some of Collier’s personal belongings, as well as the medals he earned for destroying a machine gun nest and eliminating four enemies before returning to his own group and throwing himself on a grenade, saving the lives of several nearby soldiers. Collier’s Medal of Honor, presented by Congress, will be among the items on permanent loan to the museum in Ashland.

“It has been in a drawer in my grandparents’ bedroom. I always knew it was there in the third drawer down along with the flag they presented to the family at his funeral,” said Collier’s nephew, Earl Hanshaw of Worthington, while looking at Collier’s Medal of Honor and a Purple Heart medal posthumously presented to his family. “I remember I would try to look at it and they would shoo me out of there.”

Collier’s medals, along with military letters and a 48-star American flag, will soon be part of the  military exhibit at Highlands Museum and Discovery Center. Curator of military collections Matt Potter recently issued a public appeal in hope of finding any existing photos of Collier other than the single watercolor portrait attached to his military record.

Potter said he was quite surprised to hear from family members who’ve preserved everything Collier left behind, including a couple of old school pictures as well as the medals he received after his death. The flag included with Collier’s items will be folded according to military funeral specifications by members of Col. Terry Maggard’s Russell High School JROTC before it is displayed at the museum, Potter said.

“We are planning this exhibit and have allotted an entire wall just for John Collier,” Potter said. “There won’t be anything else on that wall.”

While Collier’s medals and other items are obviously precious to his family, his nephew said the items will serve a greater good at the museum.

“I just want to share it with the community,” Hanshaw said, adding his personal conviction that Americans need to be reminded of the sacrifices made by people like his uncle who gave their lives for the freedoms we enjoy in this nation.

“I think it is safe to say this is one of the most important loans the museum has ever received,” said Potter. “This tells another story. This is history. This did happen and people have to remember ... the sacrifice he made represents a whole generation that is often forgotten. It’s our job to make sure this story is remembered.”

Hanshaw said his family was proud of Collier’s actions, although they didn’t often talk about him.

“My grandparents were a little hushed about it because it upset their lives so much. When I was a little boy, I knew about the statue of him but I didn’t know what it meant,” he said

When Collier left his Greenup County home to serve in Korea, his bedroom remained essentially unchanged except for the addition of a few boxes, Hanshaw said, smiling as he explained his family shares “a pack-rat gene” and preserved everything Collier left behind.

“I remember playing over there and the door was always closed. I remember there was a fold-up bed and mattress and a radio ... not much in that room at all. We did not play in that room,” he said, explaining Collier’s mother suffered from severe depression after her son was killed. She essentially remained inside the family home for the rest of her days except when there was a death in the family, he said, relying upon grocery deliveries and mail-order items for her family’s needs.

He recalled his grandfather enjoyed having children over to play at the house, “But, we never mentioned Jack.”

“After I graduated high school, Nanny didn’t go anywhere and ordered everything from the Spiegel catalog,” he said. “I was always told they liked to travel a lot before his (Collier’s) death. Papaw was the mayor of Worthington and was active in politics. After Jack died, she had gone through the electro-shock treatment. She kept house and she cooked. She had maybe 20 shock treatments and mumbled quite a bit.”

Lola Rice, 82, of Worthington, said she remembers Collier as a happy young man who never seemed to get upset by anything.

“He was the kind of guy that everybody picked on and he took that as a compliment,” she said. “He was a good guy. He was happy all the time — always laughing. He had kind of a funny way of talking ... not a stutter or anything like that. I don’t know how to describe it. He was ordinary looking, had brown hair and was of average height. He may have been a little bit overweight, but you couldn’t consider him fat. I remember I was surprised he went into the service. I never knew him to ever be in a fight.”

Rice said she was not surprised to learn Collier had sacrificed himself to save his friends in battle.

“That would have been typical of him. I don’t think it surprised anybody that he jumped on that hand grenade,” she said. “He was just that kind.”

Noting the level of respect that fellow Greenup County Medal of Honor recipient Ernie West has expressed for soldiers who did not get to come home from the war in Korea, Potter said he hopes the exhibit featuring Collier’s items will bring a new level of public appreciation for those who served their country during that conflict.

“It has always been a strong passion of people like Ernie West that John Collier be remembered,” he said.

The Collier addition to the museum’s military exhibit will debut Sept. 15 as part of the next Military Roundtable. For more information, call (606)

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.

com or (606) 326-2651.

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