Remembering a Hero

by Senior Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Gregory J. Knott

I was on a Sunday afternoon drive near Pembroke, Kentucky when I came upon a rural cemetery.  I love exploring cemeteries and learning about the life and history of those that rest there.   Rosedale cemetery is well kept, with a road in the middle of it with majestic maple trees on each side of it.  These trees were providing some wonderful shade on a hot August afternoon.

Working my way down the various rows, I studied a number of gravestones.  I utilize the website Find A Grave as a resource to learn about the cemetery and those who are there.  It is an amazing tool to have on your mobile phone.  

One headstone in the distance caught my attention as it had a square and compass on it.  I worked my way over to it and discovered it belonged to Earl George Collins.  Mr. Collins was born on 27 August 1888 and died on 23 October 1961.  According to his obituary, he was a retired farmer and a member of the Pembroke Baptist Church.  He was married to Clara Lanier Collins (1887-1962) and they had three sons, Tommy Collins, John David Collins, and James Earl “Jimmie” Collins.   While his obituary didn’t specifically mention it, I am assuming Earl Collins was a Freemason since there was a square and compass on the headstone.

As I examined the other headstones near Earl’s, I saw his wife Clara next to him.  Next to Clara was their son James Earl Collins.   

Jimmie’s tombstone indicated he was born 8 December 1920 and died on 7 December 1941, just one day short of his 21st birthday.   7 December 1941 is a famous date in American history with it being the attack by Japan on the American fleet at Pearl Harbour.   This was the beginning of the involvement of the United States in WWII. James' tombstone indicated that he had died at Pearl Harbour and was aboard the USS Oklahoma.

The USS Oklahoma was a Nevada class battleship, having launched in 1914, later seeing service in WWI.  On the morning of December 7, the USS Oklahoma was docked at Pearl Harbour along with numerous others moored in battleship row.  During the attack, several Japanese torpedoes hit the USS Oklahoma and it was eventually seriously damaged and capsized.  429 crew members perished in the attack, including James Earl Collins.

In a 2007 article in the Kentucky New Era newspaper, family members of Jimmie recounted receiving word of Jimmie’s death with a December 15, 1941 telegram that said “The Navy Department deeply regrets to inform you that your son, James Earl Collins, Seaman First Class, U.S. Navy, was lost in action in the performance of his duty and in service to his country …”

Jimmie was initially buried in a cemetery in Hawaii and on October 28, 1947, he was re-interred at Rosedale Cemetery in Pembroke.

The simple fate of my finding this cemetery on a Sunday afternoon summer drive, finding the square and compass on Jimmie’s dad’s monument, and then learning about Jimmie and his sacrifice for our freedom.  Rest in peace Seaman First Class James Earl “Jimmie” Collins, we honor and remember your sacrifice for all of us.


WB Gregory J. Knott is a founding member and Senior Contributor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No. 970 in St. Joseph (IL) and a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL) and Naval Lodge No. 4 in Washington, DC. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite, the York Rite, Eastern Star and is the Charter Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign-Urbana. He is also a member of ANSAR Shrine (IL) and the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. Greg serves on the Board of Directors of The Masonic Society and is a member of the Scottish Rite Research Society and The Philathes Society. He is a charter member of a new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter U.D. and serves as its Secretary. Greg is very involved in Boy Scouts—an Eagle Scout himself, he is a member of the National Association of Masonic Scouters. You can contact him at

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