“I done what I had to do, and that’s all there is to it.”

Posted July 5, 2018 at 12:53 pm

The reply often attributed to Murl Conner when questioned about his experiences and actions during World War II

Grown men in full uniform, adorned with one, two, three and even four star General insignias on their uniforms, had to wipe the tears away from their cheeks before they stood with hundreds of others to salute Pauline Conner with a standing ovation after she had concluded her remarks about her husband, the late Garlin Murl Conner.

That was the final scene of a whirlwind week of events that surrounded the recognizing of America’s most recent recipient of the nation’s highest military award – the Medal of Honor.

“What Murl would want me to say now is … ‘God Bless these United States of America’, thank you,” Pauline Conner concluded her more than 10 minute long talk to a full house last Wednesday, June 27, in an underground level auditorium inside the Pentagon Building in Washington, D.C.

That ceremony was the last official gathering during a week of events that was attended by Pauline Conner, her son and daughter-in-law Paul and Kathy Conner, and their family as well as about 100 of their family members and friends.

Paul Conner spent a busy week with the group honoring the wartime heroics of his father, attending the string of events, meeting the hundreds of others on hand, but mostly watching over his now 89 year-old mother.

Acknowledging that his father never talked about the war in his later life and never wanted to pursue notoriety, he added that he felt the week of pomp and circumstance was certainly warranted and would have likely been appreciated by his father.

“I cannot believe the expense they have gone to, to do this, and my Dad has been dead for 20 years, so they did not have to do this,” Conner said. “It’s been absolutely fantastic. Even though my Dad early on didn’t want it, I think he would be proud, and I hope it’s a positive influence for Clinton County.”

Hosted by the U.S. Army, the nearly week-long group of events began with Pauline traveling to Washington, D.C. on Sunday while being escorted by Army personnel to the Sheraton Pentagon City Hotel that served as the headquarters for those who traveled to attend some or all of the surrounding events.

Several people, family members and friends, were invited by the Conner family to attend the events surrounding the Medal of Honor ceremony.

Many of those in attendance were from Albany and Clinton County while others traveled from all over the nation to be with the Conner family in the nation’s capitol last week.

With most of those traveling to Washington, D.C. arriving on Monday, the chain of official events began with a reception hosted by the U.S. Army at the headquarter hotel.

Among the 100 or so family and friends who were invited by the Conner family to attend last week’s events, were the three individuals who Pauline has credited with being the most responsible for having her late husband’s medals upgraded to include the Medal of Honor.

Richard Chilton, a now retired Green Beret officer, was on hand last week for the entire group of events.

Chilton first discovered in 1996 that Conner’s acts of heroism during World War II were deserving of the Medal of Honor.

While doing research on his own uncle, who had fought alongside Conner, he came across the collection of war medals that had been stored in a duffel bag in a closet at the Conner home.

He immediately began the effort to have Conner awarded the Medal of Honor.

“Without him, none of this would have been possible, not any of it,” Pauline Conner said last week in Washington in the Sheraton Hotel lobby, while reaching out to take the hand of Chilton to thank him for beginning the effort.

“I never had to think about it, I just kept plowing ahead. I never thought about giving up. One person says ‘no’, you just go on to the next person. I would just wake up every morning and start over. I never thought I would get to see this,” Chilton told Clinton County News Editor/Publisher Al Gibson Wednesday afternoon. “I absolutely can’t believe all of this they have done. I thought if they ever did give it (the Medal) to him, they would just mail the damned thing to Pauline.”

In more recent years, after the death of Murl Conner in 1998 at the age of 79, the effort to continue to have the Medal of Honor awarded was continued by Pauline and she has time and time again stressed that last week’s events were made possible through the continued efforts of two Clinton County men, Walton R. “Chip” Haddix, and L.C. “Hoppy” Conner.

Both Haddix and L.C. Conner, who were on hand last week in Washington with their families, wrote letters, made trips, worked legal avenues, filed suits and entered appeals during their work to see that Murl Conner was eventually added to the list of recipients of the nation’s highest military award.

“It’s a wonderful, wonderful day for the family, and particularly for Garlin Murl Conner and for the people of Clinton County, Kentucky,” L.C. Conner said Tuesday morning. “This is just a wonderful occasion to recognize his heroic service and all of his glorious acts in World War II.”

It was at that first banquet on Monday night that the U.S. Army admitted that it had taken too long for one of it’s bravest and most heroic soldiers to be properly recognized.

Issuing an apology for the 78 year long oversight that included the 22 year long battle after Conner’s 1996 death, an Army general said that at least, with last week’s presentation of the Medal of Honor, they were “finally getting it right”.

Conner’s grandson, Brett Conner, who is currently serving in the U.S. Navy as a member of a submarine crew, agreed with that assessment also.

“It’s been fantastic. This military honor has been a long time in the making, Conner said after Wednesday’s Pentagon ceremony. “Like the General said, it took a long time to get it right, but they got it right.”

Another family guest who made the trip to Washington for the series of ceremonies and gatherings was Crystal Irwin, her husband Roger and their two sons.

Both Murl and Pauline were heavily involved with the Farm Bureau organization, and Pauline continues to work at the Farm Bureau office now, where Crystal has been employed for the past two decades.

After Monday night’s event at the Sheraton hosted by the U.S. Army and the Pentagon, Irwin was moved by the way her long-time work collegue was being treated.

“The appreciation they showed for Murl and Pauline, it was amazing what they did at the ceremony last night,” Irwin said. “I’ve worked with Pauline going on 20 years now, and she’s just like a grandmother to me, and she was beaming, she was glowing last night when she came into that room.”

Pauline Conner has also repeatedly thanked 2000 Miss America and 1999 Miss Kentucky, Heather French Henry for her efforts in helping to secure the Medal of Honor.

Henry, who from 2014 to 2018 served as the Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs, worked diligently to help see last week’s awarding of the Medal of Honor take place.

On hand for all of last week’s events, Henry told the Clinton County News that she was happy to finally see the Medal of Honor upgrade finally come to be.

“I am so pleased that the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs was able to assist in this Medal of Honor upgrade for Garlin Conner and his family,” she said before Tuesday’s ceremony at the White House. “Unfortunately, it’s a bit late in the game and we wish that Garlin was actually here to receive it himself, but Miss Pauline and the family getting to be here means a tremendous amount to us, not only to get to see someone given their due for their service and sacrifice, but also for future generations that they see that no matter how many years have gone by, we choose to never forget.”

While Henry also acknowledged that it had taken entirely too long for Lt. Conner to be properly recognized for his wartime heroics, she also said that it certainly was better late, than never.

“It’s never too late when it comes to paying homage to honor and sacrifice,” Henry said. “Everyone together over the past 22 years, it just took everyone’s effort to finally reach this point. But again, it’s never too late to do the right thing.”

On Tuesday, the group traveled the short ride to the White House where, after two screenings by the U.S. Secret Service, they were escorted into the East Wing and eventually to the East Room for the ceremony that saw President Donald Trump introduce Pauline Conner and her entire family to the world before presenting her with her late husband’s framed Medal of Honor.

Tuesday’s presentation ceremony, in addition to the local group in the Conner entourage, was also attended by Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who serves as his senior advisor, as well as White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

In his address Tuesday afternoon, President Trump went “off script” from the remarks rolling on four teleprompters at the back of the room, including one instance when he likened Murl Conner’s maneuvering through the snow covered fields in France to that of a professional athlete.

“He ran 400 yards, dodging shrapnel, bullets, shells everywhere, artillery trying to hit him. They saw him; they couldn’t get him, Trump said. “He was going every different way. He looked like an NFL star, all the while laying telephone wire wherever he went.”

After Tuesday’s presentation ceremony, those attending were next moved into a nearby banquet room and hallway where they were allowed to move about freely and view several additional rooms in the White House.

The group left after a brief luncheon in the East Wing banquet room.

On Wednesday, the Conner ceremonies moved to the Pentagon, where the U.S. Army first hosted the immediate family members with a meal, then greeted the full visiting group of family and friends for a presentation that lasted for about an hour.

In an auditorium that was two floors below the main entrance of the Pentagon, several hundred people that included a huge number of military personnel, heard presentations from The Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army Gen. James C. McConville, Dr. Mark Esper, the Secretary of the U.S. Army and The Deputy Secretary of Defense, Patrick M. Shanahan.

During his portion of the presentation, Shanahan briefly bragged to the crowd about having met Pauline earlier, during which time he was fortunate enough to earn one of the most sought-after commodities in Washington D.C. that week.”

“It’s my birthday today, so I got to hang out with Pauline and Paul in my office,” Shanahan said during the opening portion of his remarks. “And, uh, I got a kiss from Pauline. Whatever you do… don’t tell the President.”

During that program, Pauline Conner was presented with a framed Medal of Honor flag, a framed plaque that included a military photo of her late husband and a description of the military citation that accompanied the Medal of Honor, as well as a viewing of the placement of Lt. Conner’s name on the Pentagon’s Wall of Honor that contains all of the names of the medal recipients.

At the conclusion of Wednesday’s Pentagon program, Pauline Conner was given the opportunity to address those attending the ceremony, and for nearly 12 minutes, she recounted her life with the man that the rest of the world now knows to be a true World War II hero.

She told of traveling on a horse drawn wagon as a 15 year-old girl with her family to the Clinton County Courthouse in 1945 to see a parade and ceremony that would have the people of Clinton County celebrating the return home of Murl Conner from the war.

Although her comments often brought laughter from the audience, for the most part, there was plenty of throat lumps and tears being choked back during her talk.

“I’m here today because of my late husband’s bravery years ago, and because many people worked hard to get Murl the recognition he deserved,” Conner said during her opening remarks.

She spoke many times about her husband and his life after the war, noting that it was just a few weeks after that time that she first saw him, at the age of 15, that she ran off with Murl to Georgia to be married.

Noting that her son Paul and his wife Kathy were present along with all four of their children, her grandchildren, and the four great-grandchildren, she said that his family was one of the most important things in his adult life.

“Murl would be so proud,” she said, her voice crackling on one of several occasions. “He was very proud of his family.”

She spoke of the difficult journey during the past 22 years that she and those who helped had traveled in getting to the point of seeing her dream of the Medal of Honor being bestowed upon her husband’s war records.

“The story of my late husband, Murl, is fascinating, and one for the history books,” she told the crowd. “The truth is, he never wanted notoriety, and even resisted numerous attempts by his former commanding officers, to seek the Medal of Honor for him.”

She said that there were other things that were more important to her husband in his post-war life.

“He said he didn’t need any more medals and his focus should be on living a faithful life in Kentucky, and that he did,” she continued. “Kentucky is where we met and lived our lives.”

She explained that during that meeting with Chilton in 1996, Murl gave permission for him to seek the Medal of Honor in order to correct his military records.

Explaining that although she and Murl had worked for years with the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization, urging other war veterans to make sure their military records were correct in order that they receive all of the benefits they were entitled to, it was ironic that he himself had not sought the Medal of Honor that he actually deserved.

She added that after his death in 1998, while working to have his records upgraded to the Medal of Honor, she learned things about his military heroics that she had never known.

Much of that new knowledge came from talking to eye witnesses and reading notes and letters that she discovered after his death.

“He was so brave and heroic on the battlefield but he never spoke much of it,” she said. “He was a humble man, and he’s still my hero. I loved him very much.”

Recanting that first sighting in the Clinton County Courthouse of the returning war hero, she remembered thinking that the small framed man speaking to the crowd, 5′ 6″ tall and weighing only about 120 pounds, was surely not the giant of a man she was expecting to see presented as a war hero.

“I could not believe my eyes, I saw Murl for the first time and said to Mama ‘my goodness, that man could not have done all they said he did'” she remembered. “I was expecting a giant.”

Wednesday’s recanting of that first sighting of her future husband was a somewhat “cleaned up” version previous times of having told the same story, where she referred to Murl as a “little wharf rat” on that day at the Clinton County Courthouse in 1945.

She continued with the story of her and Murl’s’ life together, noting that they raised their son, Paul, and he was eventually able to take over the family farm.

“I love Paul so much,” she said near the end of her address. “There is so much to our story, thank you again for being with our family and friends today to honor the service of my late husband, First Lieutenant Garlin Murl Conner.”

She then urged others to learn more about the military history of their family members so that the records could be set straight for history, as her late husband’s was now.

Noting that he was one of 11 children, she explained that four of his brothers had fought in World War II, while another brother had fought in the Korean War.

“I challenge everyone to learn more about their family’s military history, even if it takes you to some old dusty box, stuck away in a dark closet somewhere,” she said. “And this is what Murl would want me to say… ‘God bless these United States of America.'”

With that final comment, and with lumps in their throats and in many cases, tears streaming down their cheeks, the audience rose to their feet to give her a standing ovation that lasted for about 60 seconds and continued as she left the stage.

Back at the hotel, she acknowledged that the week of events had been satisfying, but extremely tiring and she was looking forward to some rest back at home in Kentucky.

One final stop before leaving on Thursday saw her with a small group of family and friends visit Arlington National Cemetery where she paid respects to her late husband’s commanding officer Maj. Gen. Lloyd Ramsey, who had recommended the Medal of Honor upgrade before his death in 2016

While at the Arlington Cemetery, they also visited the grave of another World War II Medal of Honor hero, Audie Murphy, whom Murl Conner had met and spoken to while on the battlefield.

The group also viewed the memorial of Murl Conner’s Army company, the 3rd Infantry Division.

Back at the Sheraton after Wednesday’s Pentagon ceremony, she told the Clinton County News that she had been thrilled at the way she was treated while in Washington, D.C., but again stressed that the entire experience had not been for her whatsoever.

“This is all about Murl, it’s not about me. No way did I ever expect anything like this. Everyone has been so good to me,” she said. “My escort, he has taken such good care of me, I tell him I’m going to adopt him – he’s such a sweet person.”

Seemingly becoming everyone’s grandmother during the trip, or at least the grandmother everyone wished they had, the Army escort didn’t shy away from that idea.

In a later conversation with the Clinton County News, that escort who had been by Pauline’s side throughout the week, Sgt. Buchinski, said he would certainly be all in to that, noting that Pauline Conner was a “real sweetheart” and had been a joy to be around all week long.

by Alan B. Gibson

Clinton County News

Editor / Publisher

(Who will forever be grateful to Pauline Conner for inviting me and Janie as family friends to the once in a lifetime series of events to honor “Murl”.)

[Editor’s note: A video recording of the entire Medal of Honor ceremony at the Pentagon, as well as a separate version of the final 12 minutes of that ceremony that contains Pauline’s comments to the audience, may be viewed on the Clinton County News Facebook page.]


Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead (13).psd

President Donald Trump chummed up with Pauline Conner last week during a ceremony in the White House East Wing East Room. Conner, the widow of 1Lt. Garlin Murl Conner, was in Washington, D.C. to be presented with the Medal of Honor that was being awarded to her late husband for his heroic acts of valor during World War II.


Conner Family.psd

Conner, her family and a group of family members and friends, attended the White House ceremony, as well as a presentation on Wednesday hosted by the U.S. Army at the Pentagon.

(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Pauline Conner, widow of 1LT Garlin Murl Conner, and their son, Paul and wife Kathy, are pictured at center after being presented with the Medal of Honor that was posthumously awarded to Conner in a ceremony with President Donald Trump at the White House. From left to right are: Kaitlyn Conner, Aiden Horner, Rachel Conner Horner, Ethan Horner, Kathy Conner, Paul Conner, Pauline Conner, Brett and Sarah Conner and their twin daughters Annabelle and Bellarose, Kara Conner Connaster and Keith Connaster.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Anna Pol)