BRANFORD — Chances are, few on the Shoreline know the name of Army Sgt. 1st Class Randy D. Collins. During nearly two decades of active duty, he was stationed in Germany, Kosovo, and Kuwait, among other assignments. He was deployed to Iraq in January 2005.
But Army veteran Robert Reynolds knows his name.
At the first Nick Palermo Veterans Recognition Breakfast at the Branford High School Commons last Tuesday, Reynolds pulled up on his phone an obituary of Collins, who was killed in a mortar attack in Iraq on May 24, 2005, at the age of 36.
According to the obituary, Collins, the father of two children, was scheduled to spend Christmas that year with his family in one of his first holiday visits home since he began his military career. During his leave, he and his wife would also renew their wedding vows.
“This is what Memorial Day means to me,” Reynolds said, holding up a photo of a smiling Collins on his phone.
The Branford resident, who served with Collins in California and New York, said he bonded with Collins and the rest of his squad through the often trying conditions they endured.
“Everyone was on the same team,” said Reynolds, who also did humanitarian work in Haiti, “helping elevate people who needed help,” as he put it. “We were a brotherhood. We had each other’s backs. No one cared about anyone’s politics or anything else.”
At the well-attended event organized and hosted by the high school’s Horizons Program, Reynolds was hardly the only veteran with pride at having been part of that fellowship.
“What we did was for the right reasons and not for recognition,” said Superintendent of Schools Hamlet Hernandez, a Marine Corps veteran who served in South Korea as a lieutenant colonel in the infantry division.
Likewise, Branford’s Madeline Clem, who enlisted in the Air Force as a communications specialist in California from 1956 to 1959.
“Coming from a small suburb of Atlanta, I met women in all walks of life,” said the spirited 82-year-old, standing in front of a table laden with bagels and muffins. “It was the most interesting part of my life and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
So would Reynolds, it seems. That doesn’t mean the breakfast wasn’t tinged with sadness. Or that Memorial Day won’t be, either.
“Randy was willing to serve our country regardless of the danger,” he said, as the BHS band finished its rendition of “America the Beautiful.” “That’s a true patriot.”