3:42 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you. And thank you, Chaplain Hurley. We’re honored to be joined today by members of Congress, military leaders, and distinguished guests.
I want to recognize Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan. Where’s Patrick? Patrick. Please, stand up, Patrick. You’re doing a great job. (Applause.) I have a four-star in here, John Kelly. A special guy. Where’s John? Where is he? John? Special man. (Applause.) Secretary of the Army Mark Esper; Army Chief of Staff — (applause) — thank you. Thank you, Mark. A very good negotiator, the General Mark Milley. I could see in his eyes when I talk about the cost of those bombs. (Applause.) He’s good at throwing them, but he’s also good at pricing them. Right? I see it. And Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Dailey. Daniel, thank you very much. Thank you, Daniel. (Applause.)
I also want to thank Congress, and we have some members here. Buddy Carter. Buddy. Thank you, Buddy. (Applause.) Martha McSally. Great, Martha. (Applause.) James Comer. Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you for being here. Thank you very much. Special day.
Though he could not be here this afternoon, I want to thank Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for his years of work to make this day very special. He worked hard. And he’s working hard right now on a lot of other things. But I will say, he worked very hard. So we thank Mitch. Thank you.
And to all of the guests who traveled from two of my favorite states and places, Kentucky and Tennessee. They like me in Kentucky and Tennessee. (Laughs.) Welcome to the White House. It’s great. Two great places.
Today, we tell the story of an incredible hero who defended our nation in World War II, First Lieutenant Garlin Murl Conner. Although he died 20 years ago, today he takes his rightful place in the eternal chronicle of American valor. And that, as you know, is what this is. This is the great, great men and women. It’s American valor.
We’re thrilled to be joined by his amazing wife, Pauline. Pauline, thank you. Don’t get up. Save it for later. (Applause.) I got to know her a little bit ago in the Oval Office, and she’s a very special woman with a very special family. She’s 89 years old today, and she’s going strong, I have to say. Going strong. Keep it going. She hoped and prayed she would live to see this day. Pauline is truly a wonderful, incredible person. And it’s my privilege to be with you today as we award your late husband our nation’s highest military honor.
For today’s Congressional Medal of Honor presentation, we’re also joined by Pauline and Murl’s son Paul — thank you, Paul — their grandchildren Rachel, Kara, Kailyn, and Brett, who serves in the Navy. Stand up, please. Submariner. He’s a submariner. Submariner. (Applause.) Along with their four great-grandchildren: Ethan, Aiden, Annabelle, and Bellarose. Thank you very much. Thank you for being here. That’s great. You have great genes. Lieutenant Conner must be looking down from Heaven, proud of this incredible honor, but even prouder of the legacy that lives on in each of you. So true.
Finally, to the two previous Medal of Honor recipients who have joined us today, we salute your service and we thank you on behalf of one very large, very powerful, and very grateful nation. Thank you. Where are you sitting or standing? Please. Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you very much for being here. It’s a great honor.
The American hero we honor today came from a farm near Albany, Kentucky. Murl was one of 11 children. He grew up during the Great Depression and dropped out of school after the 8th grade to help provide for his family. A wonderful family, but they weren’t rolling in cash. Right? But they were wonderful.
In March of 1941, Murl enlisted in the Army and joined the Third Infantry Division. For 28 months straight, he fought on the front lines in 10 campaigns. He was wounded seven times, but he couldn’t stop. He loved it and he loved our country. On the shores of Sicily, the beaches of Anzio, and the snow-covered mountains of France, he fought with everything he had to defeat the Nazi menace.
In January of 1945, as the final days of the Battle of the Bulge — well-known fight — General, that was a tough one, right? Was that a tough one? They taught you that? I know you weren’t there, but that was a — (laughter) — that was a — I hope you weren’t there, otherwise — (laughter). Jesus. Kelly was there. (Laughter.) But that was a rough one. They study that one.
The U.S. Third Infantry Division was engaged in a fierce battle with the Nazis in Northern France. At the time, Lieutenant Conner was in a field hospital being treated for a painful hip wound — one of many — and was scheduled to be sent back home. He was wounded so often, so much, but he didn’t want to go home. He snuck out of the hospital and he made his way back to his unit. His doctors, his nurses were not happy.
Lieutenant Conner wasn’t done fighting yet. In fact, it wasn’t even close. Soon after he arrived, he saw that it was impossible to tell the strength and position of the German. He volunteered to go to the front line and observe the enemy and to help direct fire.
In order to communicate with the command post, he took a telephone and hundreds of yards of telephone wire. That was a long time ago, before we had what we have today — called a cell phone. He ran 400 yards, dodging shrapnel, bullets, shells everywhere, artillery trying to hit him. They saw him; they couldn’t get him. He was going every different way. He looked like an NFL star, all the while laying telephone wire wherever he went.
When he reached the edge of the forest, he raced 30 yards in front of the American line. Murl laid a shadow ditch, and he laid down in this hole, this shallow ditch, where they could still see him. It was only one foot deep. In front of the lone American soldier were six German tanks and hundreds of German soldiers.
As bullets flew all around him, Lieutenant Conner directed artillery fire, each time successfully decimating the enemy. They knew he was there and they couldn’t get him. At one point, a German soldier came within five yards of Lieutenant Conner before being shot and killed. For three hours, the bloody battle raged on.
In the last attack, swarms of German soldiers rushed forward. When they were nearly on top of Lieutenant Conner, he ordered fire on his own position — exactly where he was — courageously choosing to face death in order to save his battalion and achieve victory for freedom. And those people that were with him, many of them now gone, said it was the single bravest act they’ve ever seen.
He had shells dropped right on him. “Aim at me,” he said. “Aim at me.” Well, they missed him by feet. But he kept calling in, “More rounds. More rounds,” until the blanket of fire broke the German advance and the enemy retreated, saving so many American lives.
Lieutenant Conner’s courageous actions killed roughly 50 German soldiers, injured 100 more, and saved so many American lives. They don’t even have the count.
Somehow, Lieutenant Conner survived the attack. Less than four months later, the Nazis surrendered. And that was a big, big day.
Soon after Murl came home, his town organized a parade to celebrate his heroic deeds. One of the speakers was the legendary World War I hero, Sergeant York. You know all about Sergeant York. All my generals, they know about Sergeant York. Right?
It was at this time that Pauline first caught a glimpse of her future husband. Right, Pauline? I don’t think you were impressed either, were you, Pauline? (Laughter.) She said, “No, I wasn’t.”
As she puts it, “I was expecting a giant of a man.” Because he was a big hero already, and she hadn’t met him. But they were giving a parade. I was asking her about it. And she expected this big, powerful guy. But when she saw Murl, he was 5-foot-6 tops, 120 pounds. And she told her mother, “That little guy could not have done all of the things that they said he’s done.” (Laughter.) Couldn’t be possible, right?
She soon saw for herself the extraordinary courage and devotion that burned like a righteous fire in his soul. It’s all about the soul. Murl embodied the pure patriotic love that builds and sustains a nation. Just a few months later, Murl and Pauline were husband and wife. Together, they lived, loved, and thrived through 53 years of an incredibly great marriage.
Was it good or great, Pauline? Huh?
MRS. CONNER: (Inaudible.) It was great.
THE PRESIDENT: It was great. That’s good. Oh, boy, I’m glad she said that. (Laughter.) We might have had to cancel the rest. That would have been terrible. (Laughter.) She said it was great.
Today we pay tribute to this Kentucky farm boy who stared down evil with the strength of a warrior and the heart of a true hero.
Lloyd Ramsey, Murl’s commanding officer, described him this way: “I’d never seen a man with as much courage and ability as he had. I usually don’t brag on my officers, but this is one officer nobody could brag enough about and do him justice. He was a real soldier.” That’s some quote from his commander.
Lieutenant Garlin Murl Conner was indeed a giant. In his daring, his devotion, and his duty, he was larger than life. And that, he was. He will never, ever be forgotten. We will never forget his story. And we will always be grateful to God for giving us heroes like Murl and you two gentlemen. We didn’t forget you, two great gentlemen. And, by the way, all of these great soldiers and truly brave warriors that do such an incredible job protecting the people of this country — and we mean that 100 percent. So everybody in uniform here today, we thank you.
I would now like to ask Pauline to come and accept the Congressional Medal of Honor for her husband, and for the military aide to read the citation.
Thank you. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
She told me she voted for Trump. (Laughter.) (Inaudible.)
MILITARY AIDE: The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3rd, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to First Lieutenant Garlin M. Conner, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his own life above and beyond the call of duty.
First Lieutenant Garlin M. Conner distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity while serving with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division. On the morning of January 24, 1945, near the town of Houssen, France, German forces ferociously counterattacked the front left flank of the 7th Infantry Regiment with 600 infantry troops, six Mark VI tanks, and tank destroyers.
Lieutenant Conner, having recently returned to his unit after recovering from a wound received in an earlier battle, was working as the intelligence officer in the 3rd Battalion Command Post at the time of the attack. Understanding the devastating effect that the advancing enemy armor could have on the battalion, Lieutenant Conner immediately volunteered to run straight into the heart of the enemy assault to get to a position from which he could direct friendly artillery on the advancing enemy forces.
With complete disregard for his own safety, Lieutenant Conner maneuvered 400 yards through the enemy artillery fire that destroyed trees in his path and rained shrapnel all around him, while unrolling telephone wire needed to communicate with the battalion command post. Upon reaching the battalion’s front line, he continued to move forward under the enemy assault to a position 30 yards in front of the defending United States forces, where he plunged into a shallow ditch that provided minimal protection from the advancing enemy’s heavy machine gun and small-arms fire.
With rounds impacting all around him, Lieutenant Conner calmly directed multiple fire missions, adjusting round after round of artillery from his prone position, until the enemy was forced to halt its advance and seek cover behind a nearby dike. For three hours, Lieutenant Conner remained in his compromised position, enduring the repeated onslaught of German infantry, which at one point advanced to within five yards of his position.
As German infantry regrouped and began to mass in an overwhelming assault, Lieutenant Conner ordered friendly artillery to concentrate directly on his own position, having resolved to die if necessary to destroy the enemy advance. Ignoring the friendly artillery shells blanketing his position and exploding mere feet from him, Lieutenant Conner continued to direct artillery fire on the enemy assault swarming around him until the German attack was finally broken.
By his heroism and disregard for his own life, Lieutenant Conner stopped the enemy advance. The artillery he expertly directed, while under constant enemy fire, killed approximately 50 German soldiers and wounded an estimated 100 more, preventing what would have undoubtedly been heavy friendly casualties.
His actions are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the 3rd Infantry Division, and the United States Army.
(The Medal of Honor is presented.) (Applause.)
(A prayer is given.)
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