Because he couldn’t find a book about the Mississippi native who was a mentor to Dwight D. Eisenhower and chief of staff to Gen. John Pershing, Louisiana attorney Steve Rabalais has written one.
His biography of Gen. Fox Conner , who was chief of operations for the American Expeditionary Force in Europe during World War I, was published in October by Casemate Publishers, which specializes in military history.
Rabalais is a Morgan City native who works in Lafayette. He told the Daily Review (http://bit.ly/2fZT2uG ) that Conner has been nearly forgotten in spite of his influence in two of history’s most lethal wars.
“He was not a guy who enjoyed the limelight,” and had ordered his personal papers destroyed, Rabalais said.
Rabalais’ research began more than eight years ago, after a friend asked him to guest-host a radio show about Conner, who was born in rural Slate Springs, Mississippi, son of a man blinded during the Civil War. Rabalais looked for a book about the general, but couldn’t find one.
Rabalais found material for his book in archives, libraries, and through Conner’s descendants.
Rabalais also tracked down Calhoun County history teacher Pam McPhail, who had done research on Conner.
“Pam put me in touch with people who put me in touch with people, and eventually I was able to meet Conner’s grandson,” MacPherson Conner, Rabalais said. “He had a large cache of information, some of which had been handed down from the family.”
Rabalais said that although Conner didn’t keep his own paperwork, “Conner shows up in everybody else’s papers.”
MacPherson Conner “had done a lot of extracting needles from haystacks,” he said.
He also talked to historian Norm McDonald of Ossining, New York, who had been married to Conner’s granddaughter.
The book is based on “years of extensive analysis of material available at the National Archives, the State of Mississippi archives, West Point, the Eisenhower Presidential Library, and numerous other sources,” according to the publisher’s website.
“From humble beginnings in rural Mississippi, Conner became one of the army’s intellectuals. During the 1920s, when most of the nation slumbered in isolationism, Conner predicted a second world war,” the publisher’s summary said.
It said Conner “transformed his protégé Eisenhower from a struggling young officer on the verge of a court martial into one of the American army’s rising stars.”
Books and articles about Eisenhower have also noted Conner’s part in averting the court-martial recommended by the Army’s inspector general because he had received $250 in housing benefits while living with his grandparents.
Rabalais said Conner was quiet and reserved.
“But if he took a liking to you, he liked you a lot. I think he saw in Eisenhower a lot of things that reminded him of himself. Both were farm boys. Neither one of them came from a prominent military family,” Rabalais said. “Just as Eisenhower had missed out in World War I, Conner had missed out on the Spanish-American War and felt himself kind of behind the pack from the soldiers who had been able to distinguish themselves in actual combat.”
Conner decided to help Eisenhower “the way other senior officers had helped him,” Rabalais said.