It was Christmas Eve night, 1944 and U.S. Army scout John Connor was about to “celebrate’’ the bone-chilling holiday by spying on German troops mounting one last desperate offensive in a lost World War II cause.
The New York native was armed with his M1 rifle, but his most important tools were a pair of binoculars and two tarpaulins – one to put under him and one to put over him (to block the falling snow) when fatigue finally got the best of him.
Later, in the infamous “Battle of the Bulge,’’ Connor and his 3rd Army fellow infantrymen stood their ground and helped the British 21st Army Division bravely turn back the invaders.
Bullets whizzed by. American forces suffered a higher ratio of casualties than the D-Day invasion some six months before.
It was a grim situation, requiring grit and determination.
The same traits which would, years hence, make Connor an excellent runner and accomplished marathon competitor.
These were the characteristics destined to allow him to be a great father to nine children and beloved teacher to his high school science classes on Long Island.
Now, at age 94, this American hero finds himself in another battle, this time to prolong his life just a little longer and spend precious time with his wife, Gloria, his kids and his 21 grandchildren.
He’s been confronting some serious health issues in typical courageous fashion. One can only stand back, slowly shake one’s head and stand in awe of his pain threshold.
If you’re a long distance runner, you’re familiar with the sweet discomfort which accompanies any all-out performance.
John Connor, fondly nicknamed “The Terminator’’ by family members and friends, might not be feeling any redeeming aches right now but he’s certainly setting a positive example for anyone who stops at the Long Island State Veterans Home to visit him.
Connor enjoyed an outstanding running career and when his hip started to give out, he took to a bicycle, until he finally needed his hip replaced. He then trained to be a swimmer and became a lifeguard at a local pool.
Like many World War II vets, John was not a great storyteller of his time in the service or his combat exploits.
“He was pretty much just a dad,’’ recalls Mike, John’s third son and quite the runner himself. “He never mentioned the war. We would ask him and he would be real quiet, wouldn’t say much about it.’’
John’s early athletic exploits are stuff of legend. He once played in an AAU basketball game against Boston Celtics icon Bob Cousy.
When John returned from Europe, he brought a nasty smoking habit home with him. Later, Gloria became ill and a house full of smoke was not exactly conducive to her recovery. He quit, but then gained a lot of weight. So one day he was at a nearby park, tried to run a mile and was gassed.
But he stuck with it and running became his lifestyle.
Mike and John decided to run the 1985 Newsday Marathon together. Mike joined the pairing late, had only six weeks to train and his longest training run was just 16 miles.
This led to a humorous story along the route, when the two briefly were separated.
“My dad was always a protector and looking out for me,’’ Mike says with a chuckle. “At one point, he saw a guy on the ground and thought it was me. It was someone else but he keeps running over and goes, ‘Mike, are you all right?’ Later we laughed when he found out it wasn’t me!’’
Before his hip began to go, John turned himself into a fine runner, completing 10K races in 45 minutes at age 62.
“He had a mindset to take care of his family and that fortitude carried over to things like running,’’ Mike explains. “You can see it now. . .he’s conserving himself, maybe to make another run.’’
John, we know you have all the photos, honors and press clippings stored away far from public attention but those of us close to you appreciate the hero you are.
Oh, and it makes me proud to be your son-in-law, too.
Get back in the race soon.
Bucks trio makes it 41
The trio of Mary Pat Ezzo, Mark Fite and Larry Waldman successfully completed a 41st straight Philadelphia (Rock ‘n Roll) Half-Marathon on Sunday, despite warm conditions not really conducive to 13.1 miles of running.
Fite finished in two hours, 53 minutes; Ezzo in 3:11.20 and Waldman in 3:31.
The elite group of runners who have done all 41 is now down to 18.
“It was a tough day out there,’’ Waldman admitted. “But we are looking forward to number 42. I can’t believe it will be any hotter than today.’’
Said Ezzo: “It went fairly well. I don’t think I will ever see 2:15 again but I will just hope for 3:15 for the next 20 years.’’
Fite added: “It (race under new management) turned out to be another class event. Now I have 364 days to get ready for number 42.’’
9/11 Heroes 5K, 2 p.m., Doylestown. Contact www.travismanion.org