World War II veteran to be awarded Medal of Honor 73 years later

Matt Saintsing
June 25, 2018 - 3:21 pm

Photo Courtesy of U.S. Army

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Pauline Conner was sitting at her Albany, Ky. home watching the “pretty red birds” playing in her front yard in late March when the phone rang. The operator told her to hold for the President of the United States, she couldn’t believe it.

Mr. Trump told the 89-year old that her late husband, Army 1st Lt. Garlin Murl Conner, would finally be receiving the Medal of Honor for his actions during World War II. 

“(Mr. Trump) told me he had read Murl’s record, and he had done a magnificent job and I’m awarding him the Medal of Honor,” Conner said Monday at the Pentagon. “I couldn’t believe it, I just couldn’t. I was really amazed.”

Photo Courtesy of Pauline Conner

1st Lt. Conner will be honored Tuesday during a ceremony at the White House for his daring actions on Jan. 24, 1945, while assigned to the 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division.

Conner, a Kentucky native who died at the age of 79 in 1998, was no stranger to heroism. During his 28 months in Europe during World War II, he earned three Purple Hearts, four Silver Stars, one Bronze Star, and the Distinguished Service Cross.

He is said to be the second-most decorated soldier from World War II, with Maj. Audie Murphy—another 3rd ID soldier—known to be the war’s most decorated.

Conner left Kentucky to join the Army in 1941 and was discharged in June 1945.

His Medal of Honor will be an upgrade from his Distinguished Service Cross.

On Jan. 24, 1945—in the dead of winter and coming off the heels of the Battle of the Bulge—Conner volunteered to run 400 yards through intense German artillery fire in Houssen, France.

He voluntarily put himself in harm’s way to unroll a spool of telephone wire so he could direct American artillery fire on the enemy. Through an "intense concentration of enemy artillery" Conner ran to direct enemy fire on 600 "fanatical" German soldiers," according to his Distinguished Service Cross citation.

For more than three hours, and with shells exploding as close as 25 yards from him, he set up an observation post and continued to call for fire, according to Conner’s Distinguished Service Cross citation.

He was personally credited with holding off more than 150 German infantryman, destroying tanks and “disintegrating the powerful enemy assault force and preventing heavy loss of life in his own outfit,” the citation said.

Conner never told his wife about what he went through during the war, despite being wounded seven times. “If anybody ever had PTSD, he did,” said Pauline. “Many of the time, he would wake up in the night with nightmares.”

To cope with the nightmares, he would smoke cigarettes “for hours,” she added.

The effort to upgrade Conner’s award will end Tuesday at a ceremony at the White House, but it began more than 20 years ago when former Green Beret Richard Chilton wrote to the Army Board for Correction of Military Records arguing his award should be upgraded.

Chilton was going through records of his uncle’s military service when he learned about Conner, who had served with Chilton’s uncle.

The board initially rejected the application for upgrading his Distinguished Service Cross to the Medal of Honor in 1997, and rebuffed an appeal in 2000.

Pauline, Conner’s widow, had worked tirelessly to collect three eyewitness accounts of his action’s and resubmitted the case to the board a decade ago.

(U.S. Navy photo by Oscar Sosa/Released

All the family heard was silence on the issue. That was until support swelled from veterans, historians and lawmakers, unfortunately in 2014, a Kentucky district court ruled that Pauline submitted the documents two years after the statute of limitations expired.

The decision was kicked back to the Army board, which in 2015, ignored the advice of its staff and the Kentucky judge and ruled unanimously that the sworn statements from individuals who had served with Conner and witnessed his actions was deemed enough to earn a recommendation.  

Trump is able to award the Medal of Honor to Conner because the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual must-pass defense spending bill, had rid the time regulations on the case.