‘From humble beginnings’: The story behind America’s next Medal of Honor recipient
Pauline Conner(NEW YORK) — When 89-year-old Pauline Conner of Clinton County, Kentucky, learned that her husband would receive the Medal of Honor, she thought it was a scam.
Pauline was told that she would receive an important phone call about the matter at 11 a.m. on Friday, so she gathered family members to her home to be by her side in case that call did come.
When the phone rang, a voice announced Pauline was being connected to the president of the United States.
“You sound just like an old country girl,” President Donald Trump told Pauline upon confirming what she had been waiting so many years to hear, that her late husband, 1st Lt. Garlin Conner, was indeed receiving the Medal of Honor for heroism during World War II.
“Tell that beautiful wife of yours to give you a big hug and kiss,” she told Trump.
On Tuesday, when she accepts the medal from the president at the White House on her husband’s behalf, it’s believed Garlin will become the second-most-highly decorated WWII veteran.
During the deep winter of 1945 near Houssen, France, Garlin had run toward German tanks and hundreds of infantryman with nothing but a phone in order to call in artillery strikes from a shallow irrigation ditch, ultimately pushing back the enemy’s advance.
But Garlin’s award was not a given. Instead, the Conner family had been working for 22 years to have his Distinguished Service Cross upgraded to the Medal of Honor -– after more recently understanding just how heroic his achievements had been during the war.
Born on June 2, 1919, in Aaron, Kentucky, Garlin Conner enlisted in the Army at 22 years old and deployed with the 3rd Infantry Division just a year later.
During his 28 months on the front lines, he would be involved in 10 campaigns, participate in four amphibious-assault landings, and be wounded seven times.
Prior to the operation that would earn him the Distinguished Service Cross, he was hospitalized with wounds from a previous battle.
“He slipped away from the hospital back to his unit,” his cousin Luther Conner said, before volunteering for Operation Grandslam near Houssen, France.
On Jan. 24, 1945, German tanks and approximately 600 infantrymen converged on the U.S. position when Garlin ran forward with a telephone to call in artillery fire on the enemy.
For three hours, he hid in a shallow irrigation ditch with little cover from machine-gun and small-arms fire. At one point, German forces came within 10 meters of his location, and Garlin even called artillery fire on his own position in order to push back the enemy.
The Army estimates that the artillery he directed while under fire “killed approximately 50 German soldiers and wounded at least 100 more, thus preventing heavy casualties in his battalion.”
When Garlin returned to Kentucky in the summer of 1945, a 15-year old Pauline was in the hometown crowd that gathered to celebrate their “war hero.” She had read stories about Garlin in the newspaper and wanted to meet him.
One year later, they were married.
The new couple ran a 36-acre farm in Clinton County and raised their son, Paul.
“He loved his farm life. He loved his family,” Pauline said.
He was president of the Clinton County Farm Bureau for 16 years and a frequent church attendee.
Though Garlin never spoke about his time in the military, she now recognizes symptoms he exhibited as characteristic of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Pauline said Garlin would often wake up with nightmares and retreat to their front porch to smoke cigarettes.
“He just didn’t want to talk about it,” she said, describing her husband as “a very humble man.”
Pauline found her husband’s numerous awards, including a Silver Star and the Purple Heart, at the bottom of his Army duffel bag.
When Garlin became sick in 1979, the couple began volunteering with veterans, which she thinks helped spark his desire to upgrade his award to the Medal of Honor. Though Garlin passed away from kidney failure and diabetes in 1998, his family and friends never stopped pushing for that highest honor.
“There is just no doubt that he was deserving of it,” Luther said.
Maj. Gen. Leopoldo Quintas, the current commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, said the qualities Garlin exhibited that day in 1945, like the ability to move quickly and communicate, are still important to the Army.
“These are fundamentals that we instill in our soldiers today,” Quintas said. “So much of what happened on the ground that day … has direct application.”
Garlin will become the 40th 3rd Infantry Division Soldier to receive the Medal of Honor for actions during WWII.
“From humble beginnings, greatness comes,” Quintas said.
As for Pauline, she still gets emotional when talking about her husband of 53 years and the honor she feels to represent him at the White House.
“He was my hero,” she said. “I loved him very much.”
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