Fayette folks turned out in droves Thursday afternoon — lining the highways with colorful flags and mournful hearts — welcoming home Army Lt. Robert Collins.
Click here for our galley of today’s procession: Fayette welcomes home Lt. Robert Collins
Factory workers, schoolchildren and retired veterans among them, they showed their appreciation for Collins’ service to his country.
Many displayed American flags of all sizes. Some shared their sentiments with homemade signs:
• “Thank You Lt. Collins”
• “You Are Our Hero”
• “Thank You and Goodbye to our Fallen Hero, Lt. Robert Collins.”
Collins, a 2004 graduate of Sandy Creek High School, was killed April 7 in an explosion created by an improvised explosive device while he was traveling in northern Iraq.
Local schools allowed children outside to pay their respects as the procession drove through Peachtree City and Tyrone.
A handful of Lt. Collins’ former Sandy Creek classmates came to Falcon Field to welcome home Collins as he landed. Each remembered the lieutenant as being incredibly humorous.
They shared goofy stories about Collins, because they knew he always appreciated a good laugh. There was his propensity to crack wise during the morning announcements. And he used to wear sweatbands on his head around school all day long.
“He wouldn’t mind us telling you: he was always extremely sweaty,” said one of the girls. The others laughed, knowing Collins would have too.
“You could also catch him serenading you from ‘West Side Story,’” recalled another classmate.
Everything Collins did as a student, the girls said, was geared toward his dream of attending West Point — where he graduated in 2008 — and joining the Army.
Classmate Ashley Cudsik said Collins “loved what he did” in the Army.
“That’s definitely one thing I take away from this: even though he died, he died doing what he loved doing.”
Also at Falcon Field was a large contingent of citizens including members of Lt. Collins’ American Legion Post in Fayetteville. Other retired veterans were on hand, a few in uniform.
A cavalcade of Fayette’s law enforcement community, joined by the Georgia Patriot Guard motorcycle club, led the way for Collins’ procession.
Schools on the procession route allowing students to participate included St. Paul Lutheran, Crabapple Lane, Tyrone and Burch elementary schools, Flat Rock Middle and Sandy Creek High.
As Lt. Collins drove by Sandy Creek, he was greeted with a crisp salute from the school’s Air Force Junior ROTC. Several women displayed Sandy Creek football jerseys emblazoned with the number 45 he wore for them.
The procession also passed Collins’ home church, Hopewell United Methodist.
In the church lawn was a poignant sign with a portrait of Lt. Collins in full battle regalia. It read:
“So long, farewell, see you later lieutenant. Your Hopewell UMC family.”
Collins was 24 and left behind his parents, Deacon and Sharon, and childhood sweetheart Nicole Williams, whom he planned to marry.
The funeral service for Lt. Collins is Saturday at 10 a.m. at New Hope Baptist Church in Fayetteville. The family will receive friends Friday night at Parrott Funeral Home in Fairburn from 5 to 8 p.m.
A memorial scholarship in Collins’ honor has been established. The family is asking in lieu of flowers for donations to be made to the 1LT Robert Wilson Collins Patriot Spirit Scholarship, c/o Bank of Georgia, 100 Westpark Drive, Peachtree City, Ga. 30269.