Wednesday, June 23, 2010
To Honor A Hero
"I just sent one of my officers home. He was my S-2 (Intelligence Officer), Lt. Garlin M. Conner, who is from Aaron, Kentucky. I'm really proud of Lt. Conner. He probably will call you and, if he does, he may not sound like a soldier, will sound like any good old country boy, but, to my way of seeing, he's one of the outstanding soldiers of this war, if not THE outstanding. He was a Sergeant until July and now is a First Lieutenant. He has the D.S.C., which could have been, I believe, a Congressional Medal of Honor but, he was heading home and we wanted to get him what he deserved before he left. He has a Silver Star with 4 clusters, a Bronze Star, Purple Heart with 6 clusters and is in for a French medal. On this last push, within two weeks he earned the D.S.C., a cluster to his Silver Star and a Bronze Star. I've never seen a man with as much courage and ability as he has. I usually don't brag much on my officers but, this is one officer nobody could brag enough about and do him justice; he's a real soldier."
The above was written by former Lt. Col. (later Major General) Lloyd B. Ramsey, while commanding the 3rd. bn., 3rd Div., 7th Inf., 7th Army, a few days after a WWII assault where Murl Conner of Aaron, Kentucky ran 400 yards, through the impact area of an intense concentration of enemy artillery fire near Houssen, France, to direct friendly artillery on a force of six Mark VI tanks and tank destroyers, followed by 600 fanatical German infantrymen, which was assaulting in full fury the spearhead position held by his battalion. Along the way, he unreeled a spool of telephone wire, disregarded shells which exploded 25 yards from him and set up an observation post which he manned for more than three hours during the intense fighting. It was on that date, January 24, 1945 at 0800 hours, that Lt. Garlin Murl Conner was individually credited with stopping more than 150 Germans, destroying all the tanks and completely disintegrating the powerful enemy assault force and preventing heavy loss of life in his own outfit.
Lt. Conner served in the same 3rd Infantry Division as Audie Murphy, who has always been recognized as America's most decorated hero of all wars. That honor should have gone to Conner. The Medal of Honor would have given Conner one more award than Murphy, thus making him America's most decorated hero of all wars. But sadly, Lt. Conner was never awarded the Medal of Honor for his act of heroism. Due to the heat of the battle that day, the commanding officer did not take the time to do the necessary paperwork.
Richard Chilton of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, served with the 11th Airborne Division in Korea and with Israeli paratroopers during Desert Storm. While researching the war records of his uncle, Gordon Roberts, who was killed shortly after the landing at Anzio Italy, one name kept coming up -- Murl Conner. Gordon Roberts was a member of Murl Conner's platoon. One by one, each of the over 300 veterans of the 7th Infantry Regiment spoke of Lt. Conner's heroic efforts. Chilton was so moved by the many eyewitness accounts of Lt. Conner's courage and sacrifice that he began seeking the Medal of Honor for the Clinton County man, who died in 1998. Lt. Conner's selfless acts of bravery, Chilton insists, should place him in the company of Sgt. Alvin York, who lived just down the road from Murl Conner at Pall Mall, and of Audie Murphy, who served in the same division as Conner but who earned one less Silver Star for gallantry than Lt. Conner's four. York and Murphy both received the Medal of Honor. Murphy received his MOH two days after Lt. Conner's act of heroism.
Many of Lt. Conner's battle records were lost. The records that do exist officially document that Murtl Conner repeatedly risked his life under enemy fire to capture and disable numerous enemy positions with grim ferocity, as one of his commanders wrote. You see, for three hours, Lt. Conner lay in a shallow ditch as "wave after wave of German infantry" surged toward him, at times to within five yards of his position. As the last all-out German assault swept forward, he ordered his artillery to concentrate on his own position, resolved to die if necessary to halt the enemy. Friendly shells exploded within five yards of him, blanketing his position but Lt. Conner continued to direct artillery fire on the assault elements swarming around him until the German attack was shattered and broken.
Lt. Conner was wounded at least seven times during 29 months of nearly continuous combat service, but he refused to accept Purple Hearts for most of the wounds. He was given a battlefield commission to second lieutenant after only three months of fighting. Many of his fellow infantrymen told Chilton they often watched in amazement as Conner repeatedly risked his life to save others. They said Lt. Conner frequently volunteered to take the point on the most dangerous patrols. And one officer remembered that when volunteers were requested for an especially dangerous night mission into enemy territory, Lt. Conner was the only one who reported to the commander's tent. "Where are the rest?" the commander asked. "I'm it," Lt. Conner replied. Murl Conner came home to Clinton County after the war and spent the rest of his life farming and raising a family. He died at age 79.
Because of Chilton's tireless efforts, on January 8, 2003, Kentucky Congressman Ed Whitfield introduced H.R. 327 in the 108th Congress, authorizing the President to award a Medal of Honor posthumously to Lt. Conner. However, it is yet to be done. I realize this story has been written about several times since Chilton began his campaign. I have written of it several times myself and even if I had never known Murl Conner, I would still be pushing for the nation's highest honor to be awarded him and I will gladly write and rewrite this story as long as it takes, because it is the right thing to do. To me, this story will never grow old. I believe what Richard Chilton once said - "I do not have the option to give up as long as someone will listen. Awarding Lt. Garlin Murl Conner the medal of honor is just something that has to be done." He was, after all, one of the great heroes of World War II.
In the photo above, taken on February 10, 1945, Lt. General Alexander M. Patch is seen awarding Lt. Garlin Murl Conner the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism for his actions on January 24, 1945 near Houssen, France.
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