Drafted into the U.S. Army in January 1941, James Phillip Connor underwent basic training at Fort Bragg before shipping to North Africa in November 1942 and later transferring to the 3rd Infantry Division in August 1944. This set the stage for his life-changing role in Operation Dragoon on the French Riviera.
Cape Cavalaire, controlled by German soldiers as of August 15, was a strategic linchpin for the Allies, offering vital ports for supplies and enabling rapid troop advancement to hasten Nazi Germany’s defeat.
The USS Samuel Chase landed James Connor and his Battle Patrol platoon of 36 men at the water’s edge of Cavalaire-sur-Mer to seize the heights controlled by German soldiers.
Grit on the Front Lines
“As we started inland from the water . . . I suddenly noticed a wire just above my head,” said Staff Sgt. Herman F. Nevers, leader of the 1st squad. “I looked back and . . . saw . . . a hanging mine explode and tear the platoon leader into small pieces. The force of the explosion blew Sgt. James P. Connor about ten feet and knocked him flat to the ground. Sergeant Connor received a fragmentation wound on the left side of the neck . . . The commanding officer of the battle patrol told him to go back for aid, but Sergeant Connor refused to go.” As the squad neared a bridge a German jumped up. Connor shot him. The patrol came under a severe mortar barrage. Connor urged them forward and the group became disorganized, some of the men following another platoon, leaving only about twenty men.
At about this time a sniper shot Sergeant Connor, wounding him in the left shoulder, the bullet penetrating to his back. Said Nevers, “I said to him, ‘For Christ’s sake, Connor, stop and get medical attention for yourself!’ He replied, saying, ‘No, they can hit me but they can’t stop me. I’ll go until I can’t go any farther.’ Then he said, ‘Nevers, get out there on the right flank and get those men rolling! We’ve got to clean out these snipers before we can advance farther!’ Sergeant Connor told the men, ‘If there’s only one of us left, we’ve got to get to that point (the objective) and clean it up, so the guys coming in after us can get in safely with no fire on them.’ ”
The platoon started forward again. Connor was in the lead once more. A German rose from a hole not more than thirty feet to Sergeant Connor’s front and shot him in the leg. Nevers fired over Connor as he fell, killing the German. “Sergeant Connor called me over and told me to give him a hand to help him on his feet so he could go on with the fight. I helped him up but he couldn’t stand on his leg and fell down again. I wanted to give him first aid, but he wouldn’t even let me look at the wound, saying there wasn’t time. He told me to take the rest of the men, about fifteen now, and to carry on, and that he hoped he would see me sometime. Sergeant Connor told me that even if I had to get down and dig the bastards out with my bare hands to go ahead and dig them out . . .”
Then, according to Sgt. Edward G. Collins, the group started out to carry out Connor’s instructions.
“Every man saw that Sergeant Connor was entirely exposed to the enemy fire on the beach road and he didn’t back down,” Collins said. “The mines were thick but he told them the only way to get through was to run as fast as possible.
“He told them that by advancing faster than the Germans could figure their fire data, they would run safely under the mortar fire, but if they stood still they were goners.
“When we cleared the mortar fire and ran into machine gun and mortar fire the men wanted to take cover until help could arrive, but Sergeant Connor told them we had to get our objective, even if only one man got there, because other guys wouldn’t even be able to land.
In carrying out Connor’s orders the platoon cleaned out the entire area, killing three or four of the enemy and capturing approximately forty more. Said 1st Lt. William K. Dieleman, Battle Patrol commander, “But for the outstanding example set by Sergeant Connor in the face of tremendous odds in fire power and men, the critically important mission of the whole Battle Patrol might have been delayed for a considerable time or might even have failed entirely.”
Aftermath and Honors
In March 1945, Lt. Gen. Alexander M. Patch awarded James Phillip Connor the Congressional Medal of Honor, and President Harry Truman honored him at the White House in May. Connor returned to Wilmington, receiving the city’s key, and later worked for the Veterans Administration for 34 years. He passed away in 1994, buried at Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery.
James Connor’s battlefield valor serves as an enduring testament to individual resilience and its impact on history.