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NEWS | Sept. 3, 2015

Army Reserve soldier remembers relative: second most decorated soldier from World War II

By Spc. David Lietz 85th Support Command

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – First Lt. Garlin Murl Conner was a farmer from Aaron, Kentucky who was inducted into the Army on March 1, 1941. 

During his service in World War II, he earned four Silver Stars (the third highest military decoration for exceptional valor against the enemy) four Bronze Stars (the fourth highest military combat award for bravery, heroism or meritorious service) seven Purple Hearts (for injuries sustained during combat) and the Distinguished Service Cross (the second highest military award for extreme gallantry and risking life during combat). 

The May 17, 2004, Congressional Record shows he also received the French Croix de Guerre or “Cross of War”. According to various news sources, 1st Lt. Conner, reportedly, is the second most decorated soldier of World War II.

“He’s been talked about in the family for years. I think he did a lot of great stuff,” explained his relative, Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Joshua Conner, 85th Support Command. 
First Lt. Conner served with K Company, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Sicily, Italy and France -- the same division Audie Murphy, most decorated soldier during WWII, served in during the war. Conner earned the Distinguished Service Cross on January 24, 1945 near Houssen, France. Soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division battled two enemies: German forces and icy, bone-chilling weather. 

‘For in telling the story of the Colmar Pocket, it must be emphasized that terrain and weather were the equal of the worst any unit ever contended with anywhere,’ states the Unit History of the 3rd Infantry Division in World War II by Donald G. Taggart. The daily temperature averaged 10 degrees below zero. The night was equally cold with no moonlight. 

On this particular day, Conner sprinted hundreds of yards through the impact area of intense German artillery fire and directed U.S artillery on six Mark V1 tanks and tank destroyers. 600 German infantry soldiers followed. They assaulted the spearhead position held by Conner’s battalion. While enemy shells exploded around him, Conner unreeled a spool of telephone wire, which was crucial during the war. He jumped into a ditch and for three hours, from a prone position, directed U.S artillery on German forces. 

Conner remained at his observation post and repelled wave after wave of German soldiers that pushed within 15 feet of his position. While the final German assault moved forward, Conner remained at his post. He ordered U.S artillery to concentrate fire on his position. As ‘friendly shells’ exploded around him, Conner continued to direct U.S artillery fire on German forces until their attack stopped.

Staff Sgt. Conner explained that farming is the family business. The Conner’s owned hundreds of acres of land in Kentucky and grew hemp, cotton, tobacco, corn and raised livestock.   

According to his family, 1st Lt. Conner worked for the manpower office in Clinton County and several courthouses and community centers. He also served as president of the Clinton County Farm Bureau, and became recognized as the most decorated war veteran living in Kentucky.

“CBS has done stories on him. Army Times has done stories on him,” explained Staff Sgt. Conner. “There have been multiple petitions to Congress and now it’s being reviewed by a court for him to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. The big thing is his family wants him to get what he deserves… even though he didn’t want it.”  
“His commander wrote in the most recent petition for him to (receive) the Medal of Honor about how he had wished he had taken the time during combat operations to properly write the award for Murl Conner,” explained Staff Sgt. Conner.      
Interviews with soldiers who served with 1st Lt. Conner were included in the retroactive petition. 

“I believe it’s in one of the circuit courts now in Kentucky,” explained Staff Sgt. Conner.

In a letter written by then Lt. Col. Lloyd B. Ramsey to his son about Conner dated February 18th, 1945, he said “He was a sergeant until July and now is a first lieutenant. He has the Distinguished Service Cross 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.” 

Many people, from school children in Wisconsin to distinguished lawmakers to World War II historian Stephen Ambrose have supported efforts to award Conner the Army’s highest medal. Ambrose wrote about Connor on Nov. 11, 2000. 

“I am in complete support of the effort to make first lieutenant Garlin Murl Conner a Medal of Honor recipient. What lieutenant Conner did in stopping the German assault near Houssen, France in January 1945 was far above the call of duty.”

The Rhode Island Senate offered a resolution on June 1, 2005 that called on Congress to award the Congressional Medal of Honor to Conner, who died in 1998. The resolution states, in part, that Conner served over 800 days on the front lines. In the same resolution, seven former generals voiced support for Conner to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.     
The Conner’s family history, buried in military service, does not begin with 1st Lt. Conner; but it dates back to the early beginnings of America with Lawrence Conner, according to their family’s historical records. Lawrence Conner arrived in America as an indentured servant emigrating from Dublin, Ireland. Family historical documents state that he served with the 8th and 12th Virginia Regiments during the Revolutionary War. But in reflecting on the heroic actions of his relative -- Garlin Murl Conner, Staff Sgt. Conner felt that this story was an important one for the country.

“It’s time to recognize something that’s been overshadowed and overlooked. He’s a deserving soldier and to reward him would be beneficial to everyone.”