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50 states, 50 heroes: Taking charge at Cavalaire

Born Jan. 12, 1919, in Wilmington, Delaware, James Phillip Connor was working for the Allied Kid Leather Company when he was drafted into the Army in January 1941, part of the nation’s first peacetime draft. After basic training at Fort Bragg, Connor was assigned to the Seventh Infantry Regiment, Third Infantry Division.

With the U.S. entry into World War II, the Third Infantry Division found itself participating in Operation Torch, the November 1942 invasion of French North Africa (at the time under the leadership of the Vichy French, a puppet government of Nazi Germany). Connor saw action during the Algeria-French Morocco Campaign and the Tunisia Campaign. Once fighting in North Africa ended in 1943, the Third Infantry fought in Operation Husky (the invasion of Sicily) and later landed in Salerno, Italy. On Jan. 22, 1944, the Third Infantry landed at Anzio, where in the first day of combat it suffered 900 casualties, the most suffered by any U.S. division in one day of the war. After making it through Anzio, the Third Infantry fought in the Rome-Arno Campaign.

On Aug. 15, 1944, Connor, now a sergeant, and the rest of the Seventh Infantry Regiment took part in Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France. Landing with the first wave on the beach near Cavalaire-sur-Mer, Connor’s platoon leader was immediately killed by an exploding shell that also wounded Connor.

Despite the wound, Connor and his platoon sergeant led the 36-man platoon through the mine-laden beach as mortars and flak guns rained down heavy fire on them. It was during this that his platoon sergeant was killed, leaving Connor in command. Connor was wounded in the shoulder and back, but continued to press on, killing two German snipers.

Connor then gathered his men for an attack on a building that had multiple German snipers and machine guns. As they began the attack, Connor was wounded in the leg. Unable to walk, Connor continued to fire at the enemy and direct his platoon, which by this point had lost over two-thirds of its manpower.

Inspired by Connor, what remained of the platoon outflanked and rushed the building, killing seven Germans and capturing 40 prisoners. They also seized three machine guns and a considerable amount of supplies.

By clearing the German defenses in the building, Connor’s men cleared the way for the remaining invasion force to come ashore.

Connor received the Medal of Honor in March 1945. On May 7, 1945, one day before Germany’s surrender was announced, President Harry Truman honored Connor during a White House ceremony.

Connor was discharged from the Army in 1945 and returned to Wilmington, where he was awarded the Key to the City. He passed away on July 27, 1994, in Wilmington. He is buried in the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery, where a historical marker stands in his honor, in Bear, Delaware.

The Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover Air Force Base contains Connor’s dog tags and Medal of Honor certificate in its collection. An entry control point at Dover Air Force Base is named in Connor’s honor.

On Nov. 13, 2002, Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) honored Connor in a speech before the U.S. House of Representatives.