World War II veteran honored with Purple Heart 70 years after turning it down

Mar 10, 2014

Rep. Dan Maffei (D-Syracuse) awarded a World War II veteran the Purple Heart on Saturday. Staff Sergeant Richard Faulkner turned down the award 70 years ago, but recently had a change of heart.

A young Richard Faulkner in the U.S. Army Air Corp
Credit courtesy Mary Ellen Faulkner

When 89-year-old Richard Faulkner was 18, he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps as a ball turret gunner. In March of 1944, he was wounded after parachuting out of an airplane that crashed in France. Faulkner says it was the scariest time of his life, he spent 29 days behind enemy lines. He was awarded the Purple Heart, but he turned it down.  

"Because I didn't think I deserved it, even though I was covered in blood."

Faulkner poses for a photo with his family during his Purple Heart ceremony Saturday.
Credit Tom Magnarelli / WRVO

It was only recently, almost 70 years later, that Richard's daughter-in-law, Mary Ellen Faulkner, says the family found out about it at one of Richard's birthday parties.

"He just happened to mention that he turned it down and we never heard that before and we said, 'Why?' And he told us, he goes, 'but now I wish I had it for my grandchildren and great grandchildren,'" she said. "He didn't talk about the war for a long, long time and when he finally did, we kept learning more and more history about it. It's important for people to know what our country went through and went our guys went through."

It took about a year, but Mary Ellen was able to track the records with the help of Rep. Dan Maffei's office. Maffei presented Faulkner with his Purple Heart.

"I think he knows that it's as much for the community as it is for him, his grandchildren, his great grandchildren," Maffei said. "A lot of young people need to know what has happened in the past and how they can honor it."

Faulkner with his fellow Air Corps members
Credit courtesy Mary Ellen Faulkner

And Faulkner's grandchildren are definitely impressed.

"He turned it down once and now he's finally got it, so I think that's pretty cool."