U.S. veteran honored 70 years after saying 'no thanks' to Purple Heart

AUBURN, New York Sat Mar 8, 2014 7:39pm EST

1 of 6. World War II veteran Richard 'Dick' Faulkner (L), is presented the Purple Heart by U.S. Representative Dan Maffei during a ceremony in Auburn, New York March 8, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Bradley

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AUBURN, New York (Reuters) - An 89-year-old U.S. World War Two veteran who was wounded when his plane crashed in occupied France in 1944 received a Purple Heart medal on Saturday, an honor he declined 70 years ago.

Richard Faulkner was a 19-year-old staff sergeant when the B-17 bomber in which he was flying on his first combat mission collided with an allied aircraft. All aboard were killed except Faulkner, who parachuted to safety and was stranded behind enemy lines.

"It's just unbelievable that they all died and I didn't," Faulkner said in an interview before the awards ceremony at his retirement community in Auburn, New York, about 200 miles northwest of New York.

When he escaped Nazi-controlled territory Faulkner was offered the Purple Heart, but he declined it. He had a hard time accepting the tragedy, he said.

The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces who are wounded in battle and posthumously if they are killed in action or die after being wounded in action.

About a year ago Faulkner found himself regretting his decision because he wanted his grandchildren to have something by which they could remember his military service, said his daughter-in-law Mary Ellen Faulkner.

She said the veteran had felt awkward about receiving an award given the deaths of the other servicemen.

She contacted her father-in-law's congressman, Democrat Dan Maffei, whose office determined that the veteran was still eligible to receive the medal.

Maffei presented the Purple Heart to Faulkner before about 100 people including family and friends.

"To me meeting Mr. Faulkner is like meeting a hero from history ... but live in the flesh," Maffei said.

The veteran declined to speak after receiving the award, but told Maffei, "Thanks."

Faulkner was in the gun turret under the belly of the B-17 when the accident occurred, slicing his plane in two. He parachuted out.

German soldiers searched for him, but the wounded airman hid and was sheltered in a hayloft by a farmer.

Faulkner connected with French resistance fighters, who helped him get to the coast, where downed Allied airmen were picked up by British ships.

When the torpedo boat that rescued Faulkner was attacked by German aircraft, he took up gunner duties to replace a man who was killed by enemy fire.

Faulkner made it to Britain on April 16, 1944, after 29 days behind enemy lines. After the war, Faulker became a power company lineman, married and had three children.

(Reporting by Matthew Liptak; Editing by Scott Malone, Toni Reinhold, Ian Simpson and Richard Chang)

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Comments (2)
roleeb wrote:
Mr. Faulkner,
You sir deserve so much more than a purple heart! My Dad served in WWII and spoke of the unsung hero. You are a hero! You are my hero!
Ron Brown
Omaha

Mar 08, 2014 9:38pm EST  --  Report as abuse
tabbycat wrote:
This is what I love about WWII veterans like Staff Sergeant Faulkner and my grandfather, who was a Corporal at the end of the war. They came home, got jobs, married, had kids, and never really spoke of the war. What they saw and did was horrendous, but at the end of the day, they REALLY saved the entire planet from Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito.

Those were very real threats. Hitler had invaded much of Europe, was fighting for more, had twisted a knife in the back of Stalin to capture Russia all the way to Asia, and ruined most of France and Spain (the Spanish Civil War, a precursor to WWII, didn’t help them out any), stretching his empire to the western end of Europe and into England.

Mussolini, likewise, had captured or was trying to capture a great deal of the Mediterranean, something people don’t learn a lot about in school, and was encroaching upon Africa. Hirohito was stretching his troops from Manchuria (in battle with the Chinese) all through the Pacific to the United States; whether or not he had his sights set on Latin America, I don’t know (I should, since I taught college US History). Very little of the planet was being spared from the fascist takeover of the Axis Powers.

I don’t think the full weight of this is taught in our schools. Military troops came from ALL allied nations, which were not only the big powers of England, France, Russia, and the US, but also Latin American, African, countries in the British Empire, and ones that had just escaped it, and other nations in Asia. This WAS a WORLD WAR, and the troops were in it for the duration, which means once you were in it, you didn’t go home unless it was in a body bag, severely injured, or the war was at its – VE Day, or VJ Day, depending on your theater.

On top of that, many US troops were drafted, and people don’t understand the full weight of that. It’s one thing to sign up willingly for the military, be fully prepared to do battle, and have the personality that WANTS to do it. But in a draft, it doesn’t matter who you are and what your personality, whether or not you ever wanted to touch a weapon or see a dead body, you went. It wasn’t until subsequent wars that “conscientious objectors” began to challenge the draft.

I contrast that with some of today’s soldiers, many of whom are decent military men and women — and, most Americans don’t know this, but there are more troops in the Middle East than just the US – England and Australia come to mind as two of our allies who joined us in these wars, they are not JUST American wars. There are nations that have our backs, and I don’t see a lot of that in our media. To start with, no one is there “for the duration,” or maybe these wars would be a bit shorter (by about a decade or so). I have heard TOO MANY of our current troops bragging about themselves, slapping themselves on the back in public whether they went to the Middle East or sat at a desk in the US, they take to Twitter and Facebook to talk about how great they are, I’ve had some say they are BETTER Americans than the rest of us because they are in the military. Many of those say that the people they fought for — their fellow Americans or people of the world — make them sick. They show absolutely no humility, no recognition of the gravity of what they were involved in, NONE of the grace or caring for the people whose nations they shot up. The US helped rebuild France, England, other allied nations, the US is trying to help the Middle East, but these soldiers think it’s disgusting we are doing anything to help the people who they are supposed to have been also shielding from Al Queda and the Taliban. They talk like they were ONLY in this for THEMSELVES. I am NOT saying this is EVERYONE. I am saying, however, that this is enough people that it’s an epidemic among our current troops. They are not being taught that they SERVED this nation, we didn’t serve them. They don’t know what service means. To say that ANYONE is a “better American” than anyone else is disgusting, and goes against the Declaration of Independence, the Federal Constitution, and State Constitutions. There’s no such thing. As far as being sick of Americans — then don’t serve.

Men such as Faulkner, my grandfather, and almost every single WWII vet I met are true Heroes from a time when the entire world WAS in danger of being taken over by 3 fascist nations. They came home, and barely spoke of what they went through. I interviewed many of them in my work as a historian, getting them to speak was like pulling teeth. When they captured enemy soldiers, the foot soldiers, there was a kind of camaraderie among them that you don’t even see among some of our own troops, let alone between them and the enemy. Our current troops SHOULD be taught history of war BY men like Faulkner. Our war history courses SHOULD be taught with an emphasis on the soldier’s experience, instead of on the Generals in command. And, I don’t know what kind of people sign up for military service these days, but some of them are warped to begin with.

I don’t care who agrees or disagrees with me – I’m a historian who has over 30 years of experience researching, talking to, reading about, and analyzing all of the US wars of the 20th century, US society in the 20th century, and am still an active participant in my contemporary society. Just because someone served this nation does not mean they have license to say they are better than anyone else. Ask men like Staff Sgt. Faulkner if HE is a better American than anyone else. These kids today have a lot to learn about their place in history, because some of them are carving a hole, not an altar.

Mar 09, 2014 11:36am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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