WWII hero from Kentucky to receive Medal of Honor posthumously

Published 11:14 am Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A Kentuckian who historians say is the second-most decorated American serviceman from World War II, behind only the legendary Audie Murphy, will be posthumously recognized with the Medal of Honor at the White House on Tuesday.

Garlin Murl Conner was a lifetime Clinton County resident who was born in 1919 and died in Albany in 1998. His widow, Pauline Connor, spoke to reporters from the Pentagon on Monday about her hero husband. She said he kept to himself about his actions that saved countless lives during World War II and likely have suffered from PTSD.

“He wouldn’t talk much about what happened during the war,” she said. “Although PTSD wasn’t really recognized as a condition until Vietnam, I knew he suffered from it, because he would wake up in the middle of the night from a nightmare. He’d go out on the porch and smoke a cigarette but wouldn’t tell me what the dream was about.”

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Pauline Conner will accept the award on his behalf.

During his World War II service, he also earned the Distinguished Service Cross, four Silver Stars, a Bronze Star, three Purple Hearts and the French Croix de Guerre. He was also wounded seven times.

According to Dr. Erik Villard, an historian with the Center for Military History, Conner appears to be the second most-decorated American serviceman from World War II.

Pauline Conner says the first time she met her future husband was when he was honored in Albany on his return from Europe. “I had read about his exploits in the local paper, and when I finally saw him, thought ‘That little rat is the hero I’ve heard so much about?’”

Not long afterwards, the two were married and spent 53 years together until his death at the age of 79.

Conner, a first lieutenant in the Army, will receive the Medal of Honor for voluntarily risking his life on multiple occasions during combat operations while serving as an intelligence staff officer with the 3rd Infantry Division near the town of Houssen, France, when German formations converged on their position.

On Jan. 24, 1945, Conner voluntarily left his position of relative safety to place himself in a better position to direct artillery fire onto the assaulting enemy infantry and armor, according to the announcement.

For three hours he remained in an exposed and dangerous position 30 yards ahead of the defending force, directing artillery fire, despite the enemy closing within five yards of his position. His actions, according to the announcement, repelled the enemy forces.

The effort to upgrade Conner’s award began when Richard Chilton, a former Green Beret, wrote to the Army Board for Correction of Military Records saying Conner should be honored, according to Military.com.

Chilton had been researching details of his uncle’s military career, and he came across Conner, who had served with Chilton’s uncle. The Board rejected the initial application for the upgrade in 1997, and an appeal in 2000.

Albany Attorney Luther Conner, a second cousin of Conner and also related to World War I hero Sgt. Alvin York, said veterans organizations, local lawmakers and others then got together to reverse the rulings. They found three affidavits in the National Archives testifying to Conner’s actions on Jan. 24, 1945, and the upgrade was finally approved.

Conner will become the 56th Medal of Honor recipient from 3rd Infantry Division. He is the 40th 3rd Infantry Division Soldier to receive the Medal of Honor for actions during World War II, and the 44th from Kentucky. This will be the fourth Medal of Honor presented by President Donald Trump.

Following the Medal of Honor presentation on Tuesday, a Hall of Heroes Induction ceremony will be held the following day in the Pentagon Auditorium. The medal is being awarded to Conner “for his acts of gallantry and intrepidity while serving as a first lieutenant during World War II,” according to the Pentagon.

When asked her reaction to Tuesday’s ceremony, Pauline Conner simply said: “I am honored that I will be receiving the Medal of Honor for my hero.”