WASHINGTON — President Trump will award the Medal of Honor posthumously to a World War II hero from Kentucky who called in artillery fire on his own position to repel an attack by 600 German troops, the White House announced Thursday.
First Lt. Garlin Conner, who died in 1998, was one of the most decorated soldiers in U.S. history. The military awarded him with the Distinguished Service Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor, four Silver Star medals, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts for wounds suffered in combat.
Conner's astounding heroism might have been recognized with the Medal of Honor in the waning days of the war, but a superior officer didn’t want to delay him from returning home.
On Jan. 24, 1945, Conner was serving as an intelligence officer near Houssen, France, when he volunteered to direct artillery fire on German infantry and army forces. The weather was brutal: icy with temperatures dipping to 10 below zero at night, according to an Army account of Conner’s gallantry.
He sprinted under fire with a spool of telephone wire, landed in a ditch 30 yards beyond the American front line and for three hours called in artillery strikes on enemy tanks supporting 600 attacking troops. German soldiers came as close to 15 feet of his position as shells exploded nearby.
The Army account of Conner’s heroism quoted a letter written by Lt. Col. Lloyd Ramsey less than a month after the battle. “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,” Ramsey wrote.
In the decades since, historians, lawmakers and schoolchildren have petitioned to have Conner’s Distinguished Service Cross upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
Conner likely should have received the Medal of Honor during the war or shortly after, said Dwight Mears, an author and expert on military valor. But there is a statute of limitations on submitting appeals for upgrades. Eventually, court rulings in his favor and a waiver of the limitation on time allowed Conner’s case to be re-submitted to the Army, Mears said. Trump ultimately approved the upgrade to Medal of Honor.
"Conner's heroism is almost unbelievable to read about; it will certainly rank with other notable acts of heroism during the modern period," Mears said. "The reason it was approved was that it contained the 'wow factor' that makes it very difficult to militate for disapproval."
The Pentagon in recent years has pored over records and interviews to determine if heroism since has been undervalued. In October, Trump awarded the Medal of Honor to Gary Rose, a medic in the Vietnam War who continually braved enemy fire to save fallen American and allied troops all the while nursing his own wounds. Like Conner, Rose was first awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
The White House has not yet set a date for the ceremony honoring Conner. Conner’s wife, Pauline Lyda Wells Conner, and other family members will be invited to the event.