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Honoring an American war hero: Korean War veteran presented Bronze Star 65 years after heroic act

LUVERNE -- David O'Connor may have napped through a special ceremony in his honor Friday afternoon, but his wife and children wiped away tears as Congressman Tim Walz pinned the Bronze Star for valor on the American hero.

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Charlotte O'Connor tries to wake her sleeping husband, David, after he was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor during a ceremony Friday afternoon at the Minnesota Veterans Home in Luverne. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)

LUVERNE - David O’Connor may have napped through a special ceremony in his honor Friday afternoon, but his wife and children wiped away tears as Congressman Tim Walz pinned the Bronze Star for valor on the American hero.

O’Connor, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, was surrounded by three of his four children, some grandchildren and great-grandchildren as he was presented the medal of honor more than 65 years after his heroics in the Korean War. Also attending the ceremony at the Minnesota Veterans Home in Luverne were nearly two dozen veterans - residents of the home - some of whom also shed tears.

Walz, who serves Minnesota’s 1st District, called attention to the veterans as he began the ceremony, saying the next generation needs to hear their stories.

“These ceremonies matter,” he said. “This medal should have been presented 56 years ago. It sends a message of what this nation cares about.”

David O’Connor’s son, Stephen, said he and his siblings never knew about the heroism their dad displayed while fighting in Korea. David never talked about his service in the U.S. Army - at least not until the 50th anniversary of the Korean War was marked, Stephen said.

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“From that generation, he really kept it to himself,” Stephen said. “Mom understood because she nursed him back to health during those times coming back from Korea. Mom kept it together.”

Charlotte O’Connor sat by her husband Friday, gently coaxing him to open his eyes. He didn’t, but she tried nevertheless.

Stephen said it was shortly after his dad was diagnosed that he began to share some of his war stories.

“He brought us a citation and said, ‘I want you to know this is something else that I did and I want this for the grandchildren,’” shared Stephen.

The citation was for the Bronze Star for valor, but it confused the family because their dad only had in his possession the Silver Star, an honor given for gallantry in action as a member of Company F, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2d Infantry Division, in action against the enemy on Oct. 8, 1951.

Gregory O’Connor realized they were missing some information about their dad and they began researching records from the Korean War.

“We found two citations,” Stephen said. With that information, the family contacted the National Archives about six months ago to try and get the medal for their husband and father.

“We were told the award would be here in May,” Stephen said. “Congressman Walz was able to bring the award here today - five months earlier - in view of Dad’s health.”

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The Bronze Star recognizes David O’Connor for his efforts on Sept. 23, 1951 - just two weeks before his actions that earned him the Silver Star.

Information read during Friday’s ceremony states then-2nd Lt. O’Connor and Company F, in the vicinity of Yanggu, Korea, encountered heavy resistance while attacking hostile outpost positions along Hill 931.

“Taking an exposed position, Lt. O’Connor directed machine gun fire in pinning down the enemy in order that his platoon could advance,” it stated. “As the unit neared the objective, it encountered

heavy machine gun fire. Lt. O’Connor, with complete disregard for his personal safety, advanced through the deadly hail of hostile fire to reconnoiter the enemy positions.

“Observing several hostile emplacements, he directed accurate mortar fire upon them and succeeded in neutralizing them. With the objective still in the enemy’s hands, Lt. O’Connor ordered a bayonet assault and, under his aggressive leadership, his men succeeded in killing and routing the hostile forces from their strongholds.

“The heroism in action displayed by Lt. O’Connor is in accordance with the esteemed traditions of the military service.”

Authorized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Feb. 4, 1944, the Bronze Star may be awarded for acts of heroism, acts of merit, or meritorious service in a combat zone. In cases of acts of heroism, the Bronze Star is awarded along with the “V” device, which denotes valor.

Securing the Bronze Star for their father means completing the family history, Stephen said, noting that his father’s military career - which included serving in World War II - reads like a movie script. David O’Connor also received two Purple Hearts.

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After his tours of duty, O’Connor returned to southwest Minnesota, where he remained active in the military. While living in Jeffers, he was the company commander of the Army Reserve unit in Worthington for two decades. He left the Reserves to join the Minnesota National Guard after he and his family moved to Pipestone in 1965.

Outside of the military, O’Connor was a teacher. He began his career in Jeffers, and then taught industrial arts and driver’s education in Pipestone.

“He was an educator at heart,” Stephen said.

In addition to sons Stephen and Gregory, the O’Connors have two daughters, Letitia and Elizabeth, the latter of which was unable to attend Friday’s ceremony.

Walz said it was humbling and uplifting to present David O’Connor with the Bronze Star.

“We are blessed as a nation and we are blessed as a people - blessed because still walking amongst us are heroes,” Walz said.

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First District Congressman Tim Walz pins the Bronze Star for valor onto a sleeping World War II and Korean War veteran David O'Connor Friday afternoon at the Minnesota Veterans Home in Luverne. Looking on are O'Connor's children, Gregory (from left) Letitia and Stephen (behind Walz). (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)

Related Topics: TIM WALZ
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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