Conner’s sons

How would you describe your father as you were growing up?

Jim Dad was a unique person. He was project driven and invested in relationships. He was a teacher in that he always was teaching me how to think about a problem or to learn how to read a person’s motive or purpose. He saw life as a serious journey and it wasn’t to be wasted on meaningless things or pursuits. We talked about things that mattered. I felt like he was always trying to prepare me for adulthood, that when I was to leave the nest I would be prepared to be a productive, mature, responsible man. He always challenged me to explain why I thought the way I did and how did the Bible support that thought. He taught me to love God, family, myself, and others. He taught me that being a businessman was exciting because of the opportunity to try new things, to get to know people and to help them be successful. He taught me through his failures the consequences of bad decisions which he openly agreed with so that I might not share the same experience. He taught me that there is no greater joy than to know God and the love of my family.

Tom I think the war changed Dad. When he came back if he had any care free ideas before the war they were all gone when he got home. Everything was urgent and serious. He never took any relationships for granted. He wanted to know people and he wanted people to know him. This means that he had a relationship with Jesus Christ and he wanted to share that relationship. He knew that if someone did not have this relationship with Jesus they were going to Hell. He took this very seriously. He pressed upon me not to fool around and waste time. Time was the one thing you cannot replace. He also wanted us to choose our friends wisely. This was important to him because he did not have any siblings and friends and their influences were all he had. No time for jokers or time wasters.

Clay III Dad was not your warm and fuzzy. He had a formality about him that said, “If you can figure this out on your own don’t bother Dad.” Dad was not about small talk, gossip but only positive and matters that lead to progress. He was not one to chit chat with. Dad’s time was important and he soon made you aware of that fact.

I remember one late morning when I was in the seventh or eight grade and I was nauseous at school. The school nurse said, “We have attempted to get a hold of your mother and can not find her so we will call your Dad.” I said don’t do that for he is too busy. After he arrived at school to pick me up, I attempted to explain to him that I did not want them to call him. He said, “Son neither you nor they know what being sick is.” I knew he was referring to his war experiences when he got down to 89 pounds with malaria and dysentery, he then looked at me and said, “You don’t know what being sick is. They can call me when you are really sick or have a knife in your gut.” Dad was a guy of few words, a lot of action. Dad was also one rooted in fact and then fiercely loyal.

One time the principal told my dad that I was not smart enough to go to college or even be a success. Dad took me out to Butler to have me examined regarding IQ. After several afternoons of testing, the professor from Butler told my parents, “Your son has an IQ of around 140 and was perfectly capable of high accomplishment.” Dad took the reports back to the school and sat and told the principal of the school and eventually the superintendent that the only reason my son is failing is not because he is stupid but because you people don’t know how to teach and obviously don’t care what method to use too communicate to him. Dad’s voice was generally raised above others but when confrontation occurred, look out. With Dad, when he found out who was in error, you learned there was going to be hell to pay and even if it was not directed at you, you still did not want to there.

Once after I was on the basketball team, I announced the team had a road game to Evansville. It was on that weekend that my brother Jack fixed me up with a date that I could only dream of and so I told Dad that I was not going because I had this date. Not only that I would probably sit on the bench anyway. Well, that’s all it took. Dad exploded and told me in no uncertain terms was I going with my team and play or not play I had made a commitment to my team. “You are going to honor your commitment.” Needless to say after this confrontation I rescheduled the date and went to Evansville.

Jack Dad was a loving, military father. His way was non-negotiable but never in doubt as to being in our best interest. His family meant everything to him and he demonstrated his love for us daily in actions and words. He prayed with each of his sons nightly and asked God to make him a better father. Dad was truly a model of selfless behavior.

When did your first hear of your father’s war experiences?

Jack We were always aware of Dad’s experience in the war, from the time we were on the television show “This Is Your Life” until the day he died he related his experiences. He was a public speaker and as such he was used to sharing his stories. It was common to hear him on radio interviews, read newspaper articles of one of his speeches or just ask him for advice on a topic. In any case, we received some of his experiences in the lesson.

Tom Dad talked about them often and used the stories as training material. So 9 or 10 years old.

Clay III Age 5 or 6, when I was playing around the dining room table where Dad had scattered his papers was writing his book “Survival.” Dad rarely brought his war experiences up unless it was when he gave his personal testimony about how he came to accept Christ as Lord and Savior.

What distinguished your father as just that — a father?

Jim His open love and communication that we had, we talked about everything of importance. We never wasted time on sports, the weather, or other surface level topics.

Tom He was a one-of-a-kind person. My friends father’s talked about cars, sports and politics. Dad talked about world events, people that were changing the world and of course his relationship with his friends and Jesus. He had no time for games. He never saw me in a sporting event. Of course his vision was poor. But when we were together he would explain what was going on in Vietnam or he would pick out a Bible verse and he would ask me to tell him what it meant to me. Then he would share what it meant to him. You always knew that as his son he loved us. His discipline was strong and fast. But so was his love.

Jack There was never any question that Dad loved each of us. He never showed favoritism. He would never allow us to fight each other or even “tell on” each other. He made the comment more than once that if we told on our brother it was as if we didn’t think he was smart enough to know what was going on. So we rarely tried that. There was always an encouragement that we could do anything we set our mind to accomplish. If we stayed together we could accomplish even more because we were stronger together than separate. The most important lesson I learned from Dad was that life has to have reliable references. As such we were always discussing some book at the dinner table. From Ben Franklin to John Milton to the Bible we covered many areas of life. The most reliable reference we were given was the Bible. I was taught that we need to question all of our references in order to know how to make the best decisions. The decision I wanted to be able to make daily was how do I please God in all that I do? The way to answer that question was to know what He said. The way to know what He said was to read the Bible. That is why I still read and teach the Bible every day.

Looking back, were there ways he acted that seemed rooted in his experiences in the jungles of Luzon? Examples?

Jim He always organized projects like we were a little army to get things done. He wanted us to be organized and he believed in instant justice. When someone needed to be confronted or held accountable he would step up and call someone out. He liked to wear his army pistol and wanted each of us to know how to use a gun. If he felt threatened he wouldn’t hesitate to draw his gun on you.

Tom I think I mentioned these things above. But in the jungles things happened now. There was no tomorrow. Judgment was on a daily basis. There was no court.

You had to figure out who you could trust and leave the others behind. You could not afford to make any mistakes because it would cost you your life.

Everything to Dad was life and death.

Jack To Dad life was about survival. You didn’t make a sale or lose a sale, you survived or lost. The same was true about school, representing our family and being obedient. We were taught to be the best representatives of our family and exceed what other children did in all areas. We were pretty good little soldiers and we loved our leader.

Clay Jr. had high standards. How did those play out during your college years?

Jim I was told that getting a college degree wasn’t an option, that it was a ticket you had to have to show others that you ran the gauntlet. It’s interesting in that he didn’t have a lot of respect for the teachers and told me that they couldn’t make it in the real world of business but I needed the sheepskin to prove that I could get it done.

Jack Dad’s high standards were absolute at home which was a strong motivator to try all the things that were forbidden when I went away to Indiana University. I may have been tame compared to others, but it was a big step for me to rebel and try out new experiences.

Tom Well, I am the only one that did not graduate. At first I thought Dad would be extremely disappointed. But once it was known he lined up a job for me to sell vacuum cleaners door to door. His standard was to do your best at what ever makes you happy. But be the best at it. Once he realized that college was not my dream but his he dealt with it like an encouraging father. He pressed me to set goals and to interview successful people. Find out what other men did to be successful.

Clay III I will never forget the day Dad drove the whole family down to Indian University to deliver me and my trunk to school. After meeting my roommate and talking to several others on my room floor, Dad looked at me and said, “Look around you see all these people, one half to three quarters of all these people will not graduate. Many may know more than you, many will have problems at home, finances, girl issues, grades, you name it and will come up with all kind of excuses to not get that diploma. Excuses will separate these people from that sheepskin. Clay, for your own good and remember this: you are not welcome home until you get that sheepskin. Focus on why you are here, figure out what it takes and do it, give the rest to the Lord and know that I love you above all. Now go and get what you came here for.” Dad meant every word of it. After I graduated and realized Dad was right, my roommate signed up for the draft to be with his brother in Vietnam and the room adjoining ours my freshman year had two valedictorians both that got hooked on drugs and dropped out, and so many other stories. Dad taught me a wonderful lesson, don’t let anyone tell you or deter you from your dream or goal. Put everything aside and pay whatever price you need but get what you came for.

The same story occurred on more than one occasion when I went to work for Dad. I made many calls invariably as I walked through the front door of our office Dad would ask did you make a sale. I’d say yes. He would ask where is the check? He would then say, did you make the presentation, was it reasonable and in the best interest of the client, then where is the check? “Clay,” he would say, “you have not made the sale until you have got the check. Go get the check.”

How old were you when you father died—and what impact did it have on you?

Jim I was 31 at the time. I had been married for eight years and had two small children with one on the way. I was in a growing business with my three brothers and normally met with dad each week for lunch to get his guidance on things. When he died I felt like I had lost my leader, my confidant. Whenever I doubted myself or started to question my myself he was always encouraging, supportive and used examples from the war that reinforced that when things get tough you can decide to work it out or succumb by your own lack of confidence or will to try. He never gave up on me and when he died I had to internalize that and make it a part of what I knew about myself.

Jack Dad passed away in 1983 when I was 34. I was shocked and felt a profound sense of loss for my father whom I dearly loved, my business consultant and advisor and my leader. Dad always taught me that I needed a circle of trusted advisors that I could go to in any circumstance. Interestingly, my circle of trusted advisors consisted of his closest friends. They were Christian men like Ethan Jackson and Jack Brown. They are still my most trusted advisors. He even prepared me for losing him.

Tom I was 28. I think all of us would say he was one of our mentors. Since we worked together and saw each other at least five times a week it was a big loss. A loss of not just a father but a mentor, a spiritual advisor, a business partner. A person that you can bounce ideas off that has your best interest at hand. Of course a great teacher.

Clay III I was 36 and it was three weeks after my son was born. Dad was to leave for a three week trip early in October down south to Alabama and around to the east coast to include Washington, D.C., and then through Kentucky searching for grave markers and continue research on many open genealogical questions he had regarding our ancestors. Right before he was to leave town, my wife went into labor three weeks early. Dad decided to wait and see his grandson, who I proudly named Henry Clay Conner IV. Dad got to hold the baby once as he died the night before he was to arrive back home from his three-week research journey. It became a farewell tour he was to take to say goodbye to so many friends and relatives. Three days after dad died my son received his first letter, written before Dad died, addressed to him by Dad and congratulating him into the family and wishing him every success. I was left with plenty of good memories in raising my son, but so many times I wish my son had the opportunity I had to know him. Dad was truly a one of a kind. I knew many fathers of my friends but nobody like Dad. Even my friends knew and mentioned he was special.

At what point did you first think: His story has to be told?

Jim Our kids and next generation wanted to know more about their grandfather’s story.

We had a lot of material and writings from Dad that we wanted to preserve for the family. Since Dad wrote down most of his story we thought it would be a credible story and book. We translated several tapes that dad had recorded with two men who worked with the Indiana Historical Society that detailed his war experiences and because of the detail and amount of documents everybody we talked with encouraged us to put into a book.

Tom I always found this story to be unique. I compared it to others I heard but nobody’s father was an MIA for 34 months! Nobody I knew lived with pygmy Negritos. Nobody I knew even knew what pygmyies were. Once I compared what he went through to others it was just so different. Not necessarily harder just one of a kind. I always thought his story should be told but circumstances were never right to proceed with the project until we met Bob Welch.

Jack In 1985, shortly after our father passed away, we were talking. When re-reading Dad’s survival account of his war experience, my brothers and I agreed that it would be a tragedy if we didn’t follow through and get his story written and published at least for our family to know about their grandfather/great-grandfather. So upon being prodded by our children, we were asked by Todd Hufford, my nephew-in-law, to meet with an author which we did and that trail led us to Bob Welch.

What were the challenges to getting that story told?

Jim Finding the right author who was willing to get into “Dads’ head” which isn’t easy to do even with all the recordings and documentation of the war events. Bob Welch saw the importance of describing the man as much as the events.

Jack How do we find an author that could tell his story in an interesting way that would show people his love for others and resolve to complete his mission?

Tom To find a good storyteller. To find an author who could in some way make this story come alive. That is where Bob Welch comes in. He brought together the history of the war with the struggles of a man. A man just trying to survive in a harsh jungle

Obviously you’re biased, but what’s the draw of “Resolve” from your perspective?

Jim I think the draw is that we are taught in school to obey the rules and obey those who are older and have more experience but sometimes we find ourselves in unique situations where the rules and normal options are not the correct ones and we need to be discerning to know when we need to break away from the crowd and rely on ourselves. Also, when things are desperate he turned a bad situation into an adventure and learned to adapt which many men didn’t do and gave up and quit resulting in death or imprisonment. His tag line throughout the war was “everything under control” and I think he could say that because as long as he was free he was able to decide for himself what he wanted to do and wasn’t under somebody else’s control.

Jack Resolve is a very well-told story that is true and challenges each of us in our own life to ask if we are being honorable to our country, our God, our family and ourselves. It was Dad’s later commitment to Jesus Christ that shaped his experiences into his new mission of raising a family and leading men to Jesus Christ. Resolve gives a glimpse insight into a truly unique man.

Tom Well as I said it is a unique experience. It is a story that you don’t hear often about WWII. There really is no hand-to-hand combat. There is no 100 men rushing a town or trying to capture a hill. This story is about survival, relationships and the will to live. To live 34 months in a desolate jungle with the Japanese and the Filipinos and Negritos.

What do you hope readers will take away from the story?

Tom Just the excitement of it. To ask the question, “How did this guy do it?” What was his motivation?

Jack I hope they accept his mistakes with grace as we were asked to do. I hope they find a sense of gratitude for what he and the other soldiers sacrificed in order for our country to remain free from the control of dictators. I hope they ask themselves if their life has found the meaning that Dad found through Jesus Christ.