Columbia Daily Tribune, Columbia, MO
Sunday, December 17, 1995
Tributes to local hero show our gratitude
by Peter Scavone
On a cool day in February 1991, a rude interruption changed my life. At age 25, I had just returned home to my Stewart Road bachelor pad to find in the newspaper my lifelong friend Pat Connor's picture on the front page. The big headline read, "Connor MIA." On Easter Sunday of that year, the Navy recovered the body of Lt. Patrick Kelly Connor from the waters of the Persian Gulf and announced plans to bury him at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
I had not seen or spoken to Pat since 1983, but I always thought our paths would cross eventually and we would make up for all the intervening years. In utter disbelief, I took time off from my university job and drove to Washington for the funeral. I left Columbia at 8 p.m. and arrived at Arlington National Cemetery 14 nonstop hours later to stand graveside. I had sped 70-plus mph to a place where I did not want to be, in a little red sports car, the thing with which most young men are supposed to be concerned. "Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Go directly to the hill on the other side of the Potomac River and watch the burial of a friend from Hickman High School." I stood and watched the funeral, the family, the Navy brass, congressmen and military bands. Forty-five minutes later, it was over. The limousines rolled out, the bands and press were gone. I was alone, in a black suit, with the "backhoe" committee and 300,000-plus white headstones in a sea of emptiness. I had ju st arrived, and I was not ready for it - or Pat Connor - to be over.
Six months later, I was still emotional about it. I couldn't believe that Pat - smart, kind, friendly, typical Midwesterner, born and raised in Columbia - had left this earth when it was his sandbox. He was only 25. He was in the college ROTC and then on active duty in the Navy as a navigator for an A-6 Intruder. Slowly, as I talked with Pat's parents and read papers and articles he had written in college and in the navy, I came to a broader understanding of why. He did not die for oil, the president, a political party, or because of a faulty career decision. Pat made a conscious choice to use his abilities, talents and level- headed temperament to serve his country and help control the most deadly weapons on earth so that I - we - did not have to. I had been the “Joe Consumer” who did little to protect freedom other than to vote occasionally. Pat had chosen to put his life in danger because he believed that it was the right thing to do.
It then became my goal to build a memorial and to have it placed at the Boone County Courthouse. If not me, who? Working with the Memorial Day Weekend Salute to Veterans organization, we raised $3,500. The memorial was carved and dedicated in May 1992 to Lt. Patrick Kelly Connor and Army Spc. Steven Farren.
This year, I discovered Pat's legacy lives on. Once again, I found myself racing across the country to Patriots Point in Charleston, SC to see an A-6 Intruder placed on permanent display on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown. This plane is dedicated to all pilots who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country, but Pat's name is stamped forever on its side. It's painted to match the one that was destroyed by enemy fire that February day in the Persian Gulf.
Other patriots were present that day: Medal of Honor recipient Vice Adm. James Stockdale and Rear Adm. and former US Senator Jeremiah Denton. They were honored for their sacrifice as prisoners of war in Vietnam for more than seven years. They spoke the same words that Col. Fred Cherry says every Memorial Day in Columbia: "Freedom isn't free."
Pat knew what he was doing and why he did it. He knew that he was in a fight against tyranny. In World War II, Germany and Japan were not beaten by the allies, they were liberated from tyranny and given the freedom that comes with democracy. Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and most likely Bosnia are attempts to liberate and democratize societies that know oppression firsthand. That is what compelled Connor to go to Kuwait twice. Once in November 1990 under Operation Desert Shield and again in January 1991 in Operation Desert Storm.
A wise man who lives in Columbia spoke the words that Pat would understand: "The person who said 'War is hell' was telling the truth, but the cost of not protecting freedom, is far, far greater." Former President Richard Nixon wrote, "A democracy has never, and will never start a war." Pat gave his life up his life to be part of the solution. I sure do miss him.
"To the men who gave their lives, and the men and women who offered but, were spared."
- Desert Storm Memorial Boone County Courthouse.