Thursday, March 20, 2014

Lt. Carlin Murl Conner - Unsung Hero

This story broke last Wednesday, but I wanted to chronicle it here, where my grand-kids might see it someday. It’s a story of sacrifice and heroism unheralded for decades. And even now, when the long overdue honors have begun to emerge, there is still one last roadblock between full recognition for this man. And it appears that this roadblock is permanent; being the decision of the Armed Forces, who are the final arbiters in cases such as this.

Lt. Garlin Murl Conner, from Kentucky was the 2nd most decorated soldier of the Second World War. He earned 4 Silver Stars, 4 Bronze Stars, 7 Purple Hearts and the Distinguished Service Cross while engaged in combat for 28 months. It was during the last part of his service that he won the DSC. 

The actual wording of the citation explains that on January 24, 1945 near Houssen, France, he left his comfortable berth at the military hospital where he had been convalescing from a hip wound in order to rejoin his comrades. Had he not taken this action he would have been returned home to Kentucky.

When he arrived back at the front he unrolled a coil of telephone wire and took up a position in a ditch. From that vantage point he began to relay the coordinates for artillery fire on the German positions. He did this for 3 straight hours, even as the German troops came within 5 yards of his “nest.” 5 yards, 15 feet. That’s about as long as your average living room.

The original application for the upgrade from the DSC to the Medal of Honor was initiated by Mr. Conner’s widow, Pauline Conner, in the late 1990’s. The application was rejected at that time on the grounds that no new evidence had surfaced to support the claim. This was upheld on appeal in 2000.

By 2006 Pauline Conner had found 3 eyewitness accounts which met the criteria for the upgrade, which is very rare. Only 178 recipients of the DSC have had their awards upgraded to the Medal of Honor since 1917. When the evidence was finally presented to the court in 2008 it was rejected on the grounds that the statute of Limitations had expired on the case in 2006.

This is a sad example of how the government doesn’t really take care of its’ veterans. They never did. Just take a quick look back at the Bonus Army March during the early 1930’s. These men were asking that the bonus promised them for their service in the First World War be paid 10 years early due to the pressing economic conditions of the Depression.

They were so destitute that they camped out in Washington, vowing not to leave until the Bonus legislation was passed. They were gassed, beaten and even shot by some of the very officers whom they had served under during the war. Officers like Eisenhower, Patton and MacArthur were all on hand to kick the men when they were down. Amid tear gas and gunshots, the once proud veterans were run out of the seat of the very government which they had once fought to preserve.

And now, even as the press is filled daily with stories about the shortcomings of veteran’s services in the wake of the last 2 wars; in Iraq and Afghanistan; we see the same attitude in the case of Mr. Conner and his long overdue decoration.

In spite of the backing from members of Congress, the Senate, and fellow veterans, the request by his widow; who has been waging this fight on behalf of her now deceased husband for over 17 years; a federal judge in Kentucky now seems to be getting the final word. Mr. Conner will not now; or ever; receive the award which he so clearly deserved.  

The message is loud and clear; “Uncle Sam Needs You”. He just doesn’t care about you when he’s done.

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