Army board to consider whether Clinton County native should get Medal of Honor

Garlin Murl Conner was the Army's second most-decorated World War II soldier.
Garlin Murl Conner was the Army's second most-decorated World War II soldier. Associated Press

An Army board will consider new evidence to decide whether a Clinton County native should receive the Medal of Honor.

The new evidence includes sworn statements from three eyewitnesses crediting Army 1st Lt. Garlin Murl Conner with helping to save the lives of fellow soldiers during World War II.

The Army Board for Correction of Military Records recently received the evidence, said Dennis Shepherd, an attorney with the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs.

Shepherd, Lexington attorney Donald Todd and Heather French Henry, commissioner of the Department of Veterans Affairs, have represented Conner's 85-year-old widow, Lyda P. Conner of Albany, in her 18-year campaign to have the Army reconsider the record of her late husband.

"Now the Army Board for Correction of Military Records has, within 180 days, to issue a decision in the case," Shepherd said. "The case is still alive and we're just waiting."

Conner earned four Silver Stars, four Bronze Stars, seven Purple Hearts and the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during 28 straight months of combat during World War II.

But he never received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military distinction, given by Congress for risk of life in combat beyond the call of duty.

The Army board first rejected Conner's application in 1997 on its merits and turned away an appeal in June 2000. Conner died in 1998 at age 79.

On Jan. 24, 1945, while recovering from a battlefield wound near Houssen, France, Conner left his field hospital to rejoin his unit and then single-handedly held off the advance of six German tanks and 600 German infantrymen.

Unrolling a spool of wire so he could use a field telephone, he directed artillery to fall onto his own position, killing 50 enemy soldiers and wounding 100.

"He called for artillery fire upon himself, determined to destroy and smash the Germans even if it cost him his life," wrote 1st Sgt. Harold J. Miller in his eyewitness statement.

Affidavits were also included from 1st Lt. Harold Wigetman and Pfc. Robert A. Dutil. Each statement was signed Feb. 9, 1945, just two weeks after Conner's acts, and each was subscribed and sworn before a summary court officer. But the Army board has never considered those statements.

Even the late American historian Stephen E. Ambrose, biographer of Dwight D. Eisenhower and author of Band of Brothers, wrote a letter before his death in 2002 stating his opinion that, based on meetings and discussions with many Medal of Honor recipients, he was certain they would agree that Conner deserved the same honor in "stopping the German assault near Houssen, France."

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on the case in December and sent it to federal mediation. From there, it was sent to the Army board.

"Given the fact that we've been able to present all the evidence that we had sought to present, I'm confident that the right decision will be made now," Shepherd said. "When you put all that together, I think we have a pretty compelling case."