J. Hamlet “Ham” Collier, Jr., a US Marine World War II veteran living in Naples, Florida, passed away peacefully on February 16, 2023, at 98 years old.
Mr. Collier is survived by his children, David A. Collier (Cindy) of Naples, FL, and Bonnie C. Ebelhar (Steve) of Albuquerque, NM; his grandchildren, Christopher D. Collier (Stefanie) of Indianapolis, IN; Thomas A. Collier (Marta) of Charlotte, NC; Caroline E. Ellis (Matt) of Longmont, CO, and Drew S. Ebelhar of Seattle, WA; and his great-grandchildren, Luke C. Collier and Claire E. Collier of Indiana, IN. His wife, Dorothy “Dot” Gifford Collier, of Fort Myers, FL, and formerly of Paris, Kentucky, preceded Mr. Collier in death in 2015. Mr. Collier owned an electrical contracting firm in Paris.
Mr. Collier was born on August 21, 1924, in Paris, Kentucky. He played the clarinet in high school and was the quarterback for the Paris High School football team. Soon after his high school graduation in 1942 and only seventeen, he learned of an opportunity to build cargo and tanker ships for the WWII effort in Chester, Pennsylvania. He worked as an electrician and drew electrical blueprints for Sun Shipbuilding & Dry Dock.
In January 1943, and now eighteen, he and three of his Paris High School classmates signed-up for the US Marines. They all wanted to join the Marine Raiders, but only the first one in line could do so, because this elite special forces unit only took one soldier per 10,000 people from the same town. Paris, Ky, had a population of about 8,000. After teaching military classes on the electrical systems of several WWII planes in San Diego, he moved to Goldsboro, NC, to teach classes on the F4U-1 Corsair.
On June 3, 1945, in Goldsboro, he married his high school sweetheart, Dot Gifford. Soon after their marriage, he received orders to go to Zamboanga on Mindanao Island in the Philippines. Later they sent his squadron to Beijing, China. His squadron of planes flew reconnaissance missions over the Pacific, Japan, China, and Russia, and often endured enemy fire. The air squadron’s frequent movement from place to place was hazardous because of mines at sea and enemy ships and submarines. The US Marines honorably discharged J. Hamlet Collier, Jr. from Camp Lejeune, NC in 1946. He was the only one of the four Paris High School classmates to return home alive. One was killed at Iwo Jima, another died of malaria, and a third in combat in the Pacific.
In May 2018, David accompanied his father, Ham, on a veterans Collier County Honor Flight to Washington, DC, to visit the memorials built to commemorate veteran service and sacrifice. David could hardly push the wheelchair ten feet before someone would stop them and thank Ham Collier for his WWII military service. An entire Girl Scout troupe lined up and one-by-one thanked him for his service while Ham smiled and wore his WWII Veteran hat. The Fort Myers, New-Press newspaper on September 30, 2021, featured Ham Collier when he took an honor flight (Dream Flights) from Page Field in a biplane at age 96.
The family will hold a memorial service in Paris, Ky, on Saturday, May 13th, at 10:00 a.m. at the Lusk-McFarland Funeral Home followed by final words at the historic Paris Cemetery and Collier family gravesite. All are welcome to attend and celebrate Ham’s life and 70-year (1945–2015) marriage to his beloved wife, Dot. We will dearly miss Dot and Ham, a loving couple and great parents.
Instead of flowers, please send donations in memory of J. Hamlet Collier, Jr. to Paris Education Foundation, C/O Bluegrass Community Foundation, 499 East High Street, Suite 112, Lexington, Kentucky 40507.