After 10 years of traveling to Europe and Washington, D.C., reading archives in both French and English, and visiting numerous war monuments and cemeteries, Professor of History Thomas Conner has published his new book titled: “War and Remembrance: The Story of the American Battle Monuments Commission.”
In his book, Conner tells the story of the American Battle Monuments Commission, a government agency founded in 1923, devoted to commemorating the service of American soldiers. Conner developed an interest for the agency during his many trips he took with the college’s high school study-abroad summer programs.
Eventually, Conner began to develop personal relationships with personnel at the sites, particularly at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, devoted to D‑Day in World War II. With more than 300,000 American soldiers buried and maintained abroad, Conner felt the need to tell the story of their commemoration.
“It’s a story that people deserve to know,” Conner said. “Nobody had written a history of the agency before. It’s every author’s dream. I feel very fortunate to have arrived at a topic that nobody else had written on this extensively.”
Conner dedicated his book to Gene Dellinger, a Korean War Air Force veteran, who worked for the ABMC for almost 40 years. As one of the first personal relationships Conner developed, his and Dellinger’s connection proved to be fruitful.
“He has told me, shown me, modeled for me the quintessential ABMC staff person but also the quintessential public servant,” Conner said.
The second dedication is to the memory of his father, who taught Conner the great beauty of war monuments and brought Conner to the Normandy cemetery for the first time.
“He taught me that it was not unmanly to shed tears in one of those sights,” Conner said. “I’ve often said I’ve seen more grown men cry in the Normandy cemetery than anywhere else; they are placed of honor and pride but also places of sadness, in the cemeteries especially.
The great power of monuments lies in their ability to preserve.
“Monuments are meant to promote memory,” Conner said. “Not just memory of soldiers who fought and died but the memory of the cause.”
These monuments, however, can also serve to inspire future generations through the remembrance of the great bravery shown in both world wars by American soldiers.
“It’s a story that all Americans can be proud of,” Conner said. “We can be equally proud of the ongoing work done by this agency to keep those memories alive. Hopefully keep them alive in such a way as to inspire the current generation and future generations to be willing in the same manner to pay whatever cost must be paid to preserve our own freedom.”
Conner’s passion for remembrance has not gone unnoticed by those around him while he worked on the book.
“I’ve seen him at these places and I’ve observed his intense passion for the importance of these cemeteries and these monuments and the way he’s shared them with students,” Professor and Chairman of History Mark Kalthoff said. “I encouraged him but I think he was bitten by the bug pretty early. All I had to do was encourage him to stay the course.”
Senior Samuel Roberts has enjoyed a close relationship with Conner throughout his years at Hillsdale, starting as a student in Conner’s Western Heritage class freshman year. After attending the release of the book on Oct. 2, Roberts particularly liked one of the points Conner had made.
“He pointed out that underneath every single one of the crosses is someone’s son, father, brother, husband who meant the world to a large group of people,” Roberts said. “The monuments themselves and the pale, light marble can be a bit alienating but if you look closer, you read those inscriptions and you recognize that every single one of those people is a human life. They are really humanizing at the core.”