Monday, March 16, 2009

Sgt. Paul Conner

We all got back from a memorial service yesterday in Killeen for Paul Conner. He is the Army Sergeant who was our first injured combat veteran to get a Hearing Dog.

We all had such a good time with him during the week when he was part of our February Team Training class. Despite his TBI, he had made enormous progress with the training and we got to see a new side of him – the generous fun side – when he brought cinnamon rolls from the local bakery to the staff every morning.

10 days after we moved Zest into his apartment, we got a notice he had died. They don’t know the cause, but I think it might have been heart failure. He always said they had him on a lot of meds b/c of his PTSD and he’d been hospitalized a few months earlier when as he put it, his heart stopped.

I happened to be in Killeen the day the news came in, so after the conference, I swung by his apartment and picked up Zest and all of the things Paul had bought for her care. A woman he’d met at the American Legion helped me load two crates, 60 lbs of dog food, bags of toys, treats and brushes and her food and water bowls. Both of us went to Dairy Queen on the way home. I haven’t had a dip cone in probably 10 years, but we both needed it.

I learned a lot more about Paul at his memorial service. Everyone spoke about his generosity. About how he was always the first to volunteer. About how he always brought back loads of candy and toys for the kids at their Christmas parties. How in Iraq, he always managed to get the men what they needed. One time, they wanted air conditioners. It took him a month, but he got them. Then a couple of weeks later, they couldn’t find their flash lights and asked Paul where they were. He said, “You got your AC, didn’t you?” Even his landlord spoke about how much he liked Paul. They were eating buddies. They favorite restaurant was Hunan and then after a big meal, Paul would get them to window shop for sales on electronic gadgets to walk off the meal. His friend, Helen – the woman who helped me at his apt., made a scrapbook for everyone to sign and it had the Hunan menu in it.

The American Legion building in Killeen was a modest little structure. A classic dimly lit smoky bar, illuminated by classic neon beer signs with a room in the back for meetings. That back room was where we had the memorial.

It was profound to learn about this man through the eyes of his family and friends. We met him only through one facet of his life – his injuries and his attempts to recover. We were just starting to see the other facets – fun, generosity, enthusiasm, productivity. I imagined him as isolated other than what we were going to bring him with his new Hearing Dog. I was so pleased to see what a full life he had. It was a real lesson for me to appreciate someone as a whole person and not just the vulnerable part of them that brings them to us for help.

I really dislike mortality. It’s not fair that this happened just when things were opening up for Paul. It’s not fair that the other guys in his vehicle were killed and that the female soldier was so tragically injured. It’s not fair that Paul had nightmares for 3 years about what he had to do, and it’s not fair that the medicine he took for it may have damaged him in other ways.

These people are very straightforward. They are proud to serve. They are dedicated to serving and to helping each other. They are very modest. They take care of each other. They are not fancy people, but they are the foundation that keeps all of us secure. I’m glad we could be a little part of a good thing for them. I wish we could have been more.

The sun has finally come out today after two weeks of rain and dark skies. This is a good day for the sun to be out.



Cameron said...

Dear Uncle Paul,

I really miss you and love so much. I hope you are doing good in heaven. Ilove you and relly miss you.

P.S. I love you and really miss you

Grace E. Williams said...

I knew Paul Conner very well. He is my older brother. As I read what was said about him it makes me so proud to be his sister. Paul always had a generous heart. He would do anything for you. He would worry about everyone else before himself. That was just him. I knew he would always be there for me and my son. He still is - in my heart. (Missing him so much)

Paul was so excited to be getting his hearing dog. We talked about it many times. He explained to me that he would have to train with his dog and that the dog could go everywhere with him, even to restaurants. You could tell by the tone in his voice how happy he felt. He had a great love of dogs.

I truly wish that Paul was still with us. I can only hold on to the memories and know that he left a legacy of generosity, selflessness and love.

Paul will always be a hero to me and I will forever be in debt to him and all soldiers.

I love you Paul and miss you so much with each passing day.

Your little sis,