WWII Medal of Honor Recipient Still Shows Way for 3rd Infantry Division

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In this 2015 photo, Staff Sgt. Joshua Conner holds a photograph of his relative, 1st Lt. Garlin Murl Conner. According to various news reports, Lt. Conner was the second most- decorated soldier who fought in World War II. (US Army photo/David Lietz)
In this 2015 photo, Staff Sgt. Joshua Conner holds a photograph of his relative, 1st Lt. Garlin Murl Conner. According to various news reports, Lt. Conner was the second most- decorated soldier who fought in World War II. (US Army photo/David Lietz)

The example set by the late Medal of Honor recipient 1st Lt. Garlin Murl Conner will inspire Army 3rd Infantry Division troops as they adapt to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' directive to improve on close combat lethality, the division's commander and sergeant major said.

Maj. Gen. Leopoldo Quintas and Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Hendrex told Millitary.com that the weapons, equipment, technology and TTP (Tactics, Techniques and Procedures) have changed considerably since Conner fought in World War II, but the basic soldier skills at which he excelled still applied.

Conner became the 40th member of the 3rd ID to receive the nation's highest award for valor for actions in World War II on June 26 when President Donald Trump made the posthumous presentation of the Medal of Honor to Conner's widow, Pauline Conner.

Then there was the intangible commitment to the mission and fellow soldiers shown by Conner that was the most difficult to teach, Quintas said.

"He had this sense of duty that he brought to the front, the sense of what you have to do, and doing it without being told," Quintas said of Conner. "The other element, I think, that is so important is the element of leadership. He was a phenomenal leader and he was a leader of character."

Hendrex said he was concerned that among today's troops "there's a gap of understanding of those who went before" and the inspiration that can be drawn from "the strength and resolve" they demonstrated to fellow soldiers.

Conner showed himself to be "an absolute master of basic infantry tactics" in campaigns from North Africa and Italy to France and across the Rhine, Hendrex said.

He also had the "sense of confidence, the bonus of confidence" that was infectious in the ranks, Hendrex said. "That is the pillar we try to build upon," Hendrex said.

The Medal of Honor presentation was the culmination of a 22-year battle by the Conner family, and the amateur historians and lawyers who assisted them, to upgrade the Distinguished Service Cross he had received for his actions on Jan. 24, 1945, near the French town of Houssen that broke up an attack by German tanks backed by about 600 infantry.

Conner ran forward with a phone and a spool of wire and took up a position in a shallow irrigation ditch. From there, he directed artillery fire and called in fire on his own position to devastate the German advance.

After a Pentagon briefing with Pauline Conner June 25, Quintas said that Conner's mastery of the basic soldier skills of shooting, moving and communicating, and the initiative he showed under duress, would serve as an example as the division and the Army "prepare for future wars."

On Jan. 24, 1945, "that telephone with the wire connected was the most deadly instrument on the battlefield," Quintas said.

Earlier this year, Mattis ordered the formation of a Close Combat Lethality Task Force to review the manning, training and equipment of Army, Marine and Special Operations ground combat units in an effort to improve on tactics and cut down casualties.

Robert Wilkie, then-Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, was initially a key member of the task force. He has since been nominated by President Trump to become the next Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs and underwent a Senate confirmation hearing June 26.

In April, Wilkie told the Association of the U.S. Army's Institute of Land Warfare that the mission of the Task Force to improve close combat lethality was "one of the most important issues any of us have ever undertaken."

"We are not starting from scratch," Wilkie said, "[but] there are no shortcuts."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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