August 05, 2014 | 10:25 AMBLOOMFIELD — For 18 years, local historian/former Green Beret Richard Chilton has been fighting to get 1st Lt. Garlin Murl Conner the Medal of Honor.
At 81, Chilton is still just as determined as ever to help this soldier, a largely unknown legend, and a man he hardly knew, get the award he strongly believes Conner deserves.
However, a technicality — one Chilton has been fighting for almost two decades now — stands in the way.
“You ask why would I give 18 years of my life to this,” said Chilton on the phone July 23. “There are some things in life you just can’t answer. But, you can’t do something like this just on a whim.”
Perhaps it’s Chilton’s certainty that Conner deserves the Medal of Honor.
He also listed off several politicians and military organizations who agree, including U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
“It’s so unfortunate that most of what he is will never be told,” said Chilton, adding that, for a World War II soldier in Conner’s situation, he was the most decorated for his heroism.
The Associated Press also reported that Conner was the second-most decorated soldier of World War II.
“He’s the kind of officer who would say, ‘I’ll go take a look.’ He wasn’t the kind who’d say, ‘I’ll send two or three officers to take a look,’” said Chilton.
Conner fought in eight campaigns, and despite taking a gunshot wound to the hip, he returned to the battlefield to fight.
Although many of his battle records were lost, documents exist which paint Conner as a man who repeatedly risked his life under enemy fire to capture and disable the enemy.
In a January 1945 battle in Houssen, France, Conner reportedly charged 400 yards into a German tank, artillery and infantry assault, almost singlehandedly repelling the advance, according to a 2000 article in the Kentucky-based Bowling Green Daily News.
A citation awarding him the Distinguished Service Cross states that Conner unreeled a spool of telephone wire while under fire for three hours, laying in a shallow ditch as waves of German infantry attacked, at times getting as close as five yards of his position.
Conner used that wire to call for artillery help.
For his service, Conner had been awarded four Silver Stars, four Bronze Stars, seven Purple Hearts and the Distinguished Service Cross.
But since 1997, it seems the main opposition to Conner receiving the Medal of Honor posthumously has been the U.S. Army Board of Correction of Military Records.
“There’s so much of this that’s so wrong,” said Chilton, “so wrong.”
In 1997, the board rejected Conner’s application. In 2000, it refused an appeal, saying at the time there was no new evidence to warrant a hearing.
Later, five other states — including Kentucky and Tennessee — adopted resolutions to back the effort. After Chilton found three eyewitness accounts to Garlin’s good deeds of service, Pauline resubmitted the case in 2008.
The statute of limitations expired in 2006.
In March, U.S. District Judge Thomas B. Russell, of Kentucky, said Conner’s widow, Pauline, waited too long to present evidence to the board.
“Dismissing this claim as required by technical limitations in no way diminishes Lt. Conner’s exemplary service and sacrifice,” said Russell in an 11-page opinion issued March 6, according to an Associated Press story.
“That outraged a lot of people,” said Chilton, of Russell’s March opinion, “so it went nationwide.”
Now, a review is pending by a federal judge in Cincinati.
In the March Associated Press story, Chilton vowed to collect resolutions from all 50 states supporting the belief that Conner should receive the medal.
So far, he has resolutions from Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Rhode Island and Alabama. Chilton said he’s waiting to see the outcome of the upcoming judicial review.
If the Cincinati judge supports Pauline’s request, “Then I’ll keep getting resolutions,” said Chilton.