Saturday, May 18, 2024

A Joyous Day for Pauline

Pauline Conner accepted the Medal of Honor from President Donald Trump on behalf of her late husband, 1st Lt. Garlin Murl Conner, on June 26, 2018 at a White House ceremony in Washington, D.C. After the 89-year-old Pauline rose from her wheelchair to give the President a hug and a kiss on the cheek before receiving the award, a beaming Trump said, "I like her."

It was a joyous day in the East Room for Pauline, who had fought to attain the medal for her husband for 22 years. "If he were present, Murl would feel highly honored," Pauline told Pentagon reporters. "I just wish he was here to get it," she said. Of her husband, who died at age 79 in 1998, Pauline said "my husband was a very humble man. He was my hero for 53 years."

When the news came that Murl was being awarded the MOH, Pauline thought it was a scam, but she gathered family members to her home to be by her side in case that call did come and it was real. After two decades of trying, Pauline had almost given up on Murl receiving the MOH. So when her phone rang in the spring of 2018 and the voice on the line belonged to Trump — who told her he had read her late husband's impressive file and intended to award him the Medal of Honor — she said, “You gotta be kidding.” But he wasn’t kidding. In fact, he called Murl an “incredible hero” who had finally taken his rightful place in the eternal chronicle of American valor. "You sound just like an old country girl," President Donald Trump told her after confirming what she had been waiting so many years to hear. "Tell that beautiful wife of yours to give you a big hug and kiss," she told the President.

At the Pentagon, Pauline's eyes welled up with tears as she spoke before a large audience at 1st Lt. Conner's induction into the Hall of Heroes. With her son, Paul, looking on with her four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, she said "We did it Murl," her voice quivering. "No more regrets." It was the most touching moment of the entire trip.

When Murl returned to Albany in the summer of 1945, a 15-year old Pauline was in the crowd that gathered to celebrate their war hero. Even the great Sgt. Alvin York himself, the Medal of Honor recipient from WWI, had shown up for the "speakin'. Pauline wasn't quite sure which one he was but she had read stories about him in the newspaper and wanted to meet him. She didn't think much of the scrawny fellow they were making all the fuss about with a parade and the speeches. "I was expecting a giant of a man," she said. But Murl was maybe 5-foot-6 and about 120 pounds at the time. She turned to her mother and said, "My God, Mama, that little guy couldn't have done all of what they said he'd done. All of what they said he had done included earning the Distinguished Service Cross, four Silver Star's, three purple hearts and a battlefield promotion from tech sergeant to first lieutenant.

One year later, they were married. "Our beautiful life together was simple," she said. "Our calling was having a family, building a home and a farm; and helping family and friends -- especially veterans who returned home with hardships. With the help of Pauline, Murl had found a way to still serve others by volunteering to help other veterans with benefits. He would do the interviews and she did the paperwork Even after he died in 1998, Pauline kept on doing it until she no longer was able.

By the way, the documentary, "From Honor to Medal: The Story of Garlin M. Conner," which was originally released in 2020 and tells Murl's story as one of the most decorated soldiers in American military history, will be shown on May 27th at 7pm and May 29th at 12:30am and 3am on KET. Albany native and UK School of Journalism and Media Professor Al Cross was the executive producer.

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