World War II hero Garlin Murl Conner's widow remembers his extraordinary life

Honoring Garlin Conner

ALBANY, Ky. -- Pauline Wells was a 15-year-old farm girl when she and the rest of Albany, Kentucky, turned out to welcome Garlin Murl Conner home from World War II.

"Daddy decided he would bring us to the parade, so he hitched the horses to the wagon," she explained.

Conner had fought his way across North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and into Germany and had been awarded an astounding four Silver Stars and one distinguished Service Cross.

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Garlin Murl Conner served during World War II. Department of Defense

"Mother said, 'Now, there he is,' and I said, 'Well, my gosh, that little wharf rat, there's no way he could've done all the things that they said he done,'" Pauline said.

His commanding officer wrote that Conner was "one of the outstanding soldiers of this war, if not the outstanding."

Pauline didn't know that when she eloped and married him.

"A lot of times at night, he would be dreaming and he'd wake up fighting," she said.

Conner died in 1998. Six years later, researchers found affidavits by three of Conner's fellow soldiers describing how he had beaten back waves of attacking Germans in January 1945. They said he "took off like a bat out of hell," heading straight toward the source of enemy fire. They go on to say a hail of small arms and machine gun fire was concentrated on his position while he calling in artillery fire on the Germans. 

Those affidavits finally made it to the White House.

"They called me on a Friday and said I would be getting an important phone call on Monday and I thought, what if it's a scam? And I'm 88 years old. What if I'm here by myself and if it's a scam?" Pauline said.

But she did get a call from the president.

"I'll have to say, it was one of the happiest days of my life, but really and truly, the happiest day was when I married him," Pauline said.

In 1945, Conner's commanding officer wrote he had "never seen a man with as much courage and ability." Seventy-three years later, Pauline accepted her husband's Medal of Honor, making that statement part of American history.

Trump Medal of Honor
President Trump speaks before he awards the Medal of Honor to 1st Lt. Garlin Conner as his widow Pauline Conner accepts the posthumous recognition during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Tue., June 26, 2018. AP
  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.