Jim Collis, 89, holds the medal representing the National order of the Legion of Honor. He received the highest honor bestowed by the President of France for participating in the Invasion of Normandy.
LARGO – Jim Collis, 89, of Largo loves life. Every day when he gets up he thanks God; he nearly lost his life in World War II in the invasion of Normandy. Though it happened a long time ago, June 6, 1944, Collis remembers it as though it were yesterday.
Collis recalls landing on Omaha Beach with American B-17 and B-24 bombers overhead.
“There were so many planes you couldn’t see the blue sky through the vapor,” he said.
It was for his participation in the invasion that he was recently awarded the National Order of the Legion of Honor. It is an honor established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 and is the highest honor that can be bestowed by the president of France. It is an honor that makes Collis very proud.
Why did it take so long for the French government to award him the medal? He said it is because they didn’t know where to find him.
“I read an article in the newspaper back in January that talked about the medal,” he said. “The article indicated that anyone who landed on the beaches in Normandy within 30 days of D-Day was eligible for it. I landed there 10 days after D-Day so I wrote a letter to the French consulate in Miami.”
It wasn’t long before Collis heard back from the French authorities and once the appropriate documents were exchanged and the official paperwork completed he received his medal and declaration in the mail. They are now proudly displayed in his home along with memorabilia from his Army days.
Collis may have been born to be a soldier. He grew up in Philadelphia and was drafted at 18. Because of eye problems he had the opportunity not to serve but he chose to remain in the service and was eventually sent to Europe. He served in Scotland and Ireland before his service in Normandy. He was an infantryman and attained the rank of corporal.
Before being shipped overseas, Collis was assigned to Army specialized training and ended up at the University of Florida studying engineering. It was during a furlough that he went back home to Philadelphia and proposed to Ann Waters, his girlfriend. Sometime before he had seen her in his dad’s store and told his father he was going to marry that girl. Marry they did; it was a marriage that lasted until Ann’s death on November 23, 2001, 55 years to the day since they got married.
The Collis’ had two children, James Patrick and John Joseph.
“You can tell we are Irish by those names can’t you?” asks Collis.
Those boys along with his dad and his grandchildren represent four generations of his family in the service.
“My dad, Patrick J. was in the Army,” said Collis. “Then I joined the Army, my son James served in the Army and my other son John was in the Navy. Now James’s children have served as well. Adam served in the Army and Lisa is still in active service, she is a sergeant first class in the Army.”
Pictures of all of them in uniform adorn his living room. His son John died several years ago from a neurological disorder at age 33.
Despite his age, Collis is very active in his community. He lives in the Palm Court Mobile Home Park and sings regularly at coffee every Monday in the North clubhouse. He fills in when his good friend John Summerville can’t make it to sing in the South clubhouse. He is also part of the group called the Palm Hill Players and they entertain with music on Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
Collis believes staying active is important to a full life.
“Every day is a good day,” he said. “I thank God; he’s been good to me. As I keep saying as long as I’m on this side of the grass it means a lot. Life has been good to me and every morning and every night I pray for my family and friends. In fact at night I pray till I fall asleep.”
He is an active member of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church and a member of the Largo Elks Club.
Ron Regan of the Elks said Collis entertains members there with his stories.
“He’s a great guy and he comes to dinner every Friday night,” he said. “He has lots of stories, he loves life and he has plenty of friends at the club.”
Friends and family are what keep Collis motivated and as pleased as he was to get the French Legion Honor he said his family was even happier.
“My son James and my sister Kathleen were thrilled,” he said, “They are thrilled with me getting this.”
Then he paused when asked what his late wife Ann would have thought of the honor.
“That girl was the greatest woman that God ever put on this earth,” he said. “I loved her so much, we got along so well.”