WASHINGTON — Late on a November afternoon in 1944, 19-year-old Jack Faulconer of Washington crouched in a trench in the Saar Valley of France. He had been shot in the arm as his division charged up a hill held by German forces, and after lying still on the battlefield next to two comrades who had been killed, he darted into the trench.
Then he heard German voices around him. He was behind enemy lines.
Faulconer had heard stories of what the Germans did with prisoners. But he was more worried about his left arm, which hung numb and limp and useless.
Somehow, the Germans missed him. At nightfall, he crawled and scooted back to the American line and began receiving treatment for his arm. Eventually, he went back to Washington and met his future wife at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
And Dec. 7, slightly more than 68 years after the event, Faulconer received the Bronze Star Medal for his meritorious achievement in World War II.
“I’m very honored to get this,” Faulconer, now 87, said after being presented with the medal by Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va. “It is very emotional,” he added, particularly receiving it on the 71st anniversary of Pearl Harbor. His wife of 65 years, Joyce Faulconer, was by his side, and both are in fine health and humor.
Faulconer originally was awarded a Purple Heart and a Combat Infantryman’s Badge for his service. But in 1947, the Army implemented a policy that anyone who received the combat badge was eligible retroactively to receive the Bronze Star. Faulconer only recently learned of that policy.
He asked Connolly’s office to check into it. First Lt. Joe Weeren, a member of Connolly’s staff, an Iraq war veteran and officer in the Virginia National Guard, reviewed the paperwork Faulconer had kept for 68 years, dug into the Army archives and submitted a request in October. Two weeks later, the Army responded in the affirmative.
Two weeks for the Army? “It was pretty amazing,” Weeren said.
For Faulconer, as it was for many American soldiers, Pearl Harbor was the inspiration for his military career. But in December 1941, Faulconer was only a junior at Woodrow Wilson High School in the District of Columbia. He recalled hearing the voice of President Franklin Roosevelt over the school loudspeakers the day after the bombing, declaring America’s entry into the war.
“Teachers were crying,” he said. “It was tragic.”
Faulconer enlisted after graduation, in the summer of 1943. By the next summer, he was leading a machine gun squad in Gen. George Patton’s Third Army, and they landed on Omaha Beach in France just a few weeks after D-Day.
Faulconer’s 95th Infantry Division had fought in the Battle of Metz, along the border of France and Germany, and on Nov. 28, 1944, it was moving closer to the German border in the Saar Valley. Faulconer said it was about 3:30 p.m. when U.S. troops tried to take a hill and encountered both artillery and small-arms fire.
“It was terrible,” Faulconer said. “All those young men in the prime of life, losing their lives. It was very, very bad. ... We go charging up the hill in full battle. The Germans are at the top, firing down on us. I was hit, and laid on the battlefield.”
He believes a sniper cut down two of the men assigned to the machine gun squad with him and wounded him in the lower left arm, breaking both bones and severing the nerves.
After he lay still for a while, the shooting stopped. Faulconer climbed to the top and down into a long trench, which had small dugout areas every 10 to 20 yards, Faulconer said. He huddled inside, then heard voices. The Americans apparently had not taken the hill.
“The Germans came back,” he said. “I knew I was behind enemy lines when I heard them speaking. I was very, very quiet.”
What was he thinking? “You heard a lot of stories about what would happen” if you were captured, Faulconer said. “The Germans didn’t like to take prisoners. They wanted to shoot people. That was a little scary. But the main thing, I was thinking about my arm.” He dabbed sulphur powder on his wound and wrapped it, and waited.
And they didn’t see him. The Germans left, and at nightfall Faulconer escaped.
Meeting his wife
Some time later, after surviving “the amputation ward” and keeping his arm, he went to a dance at Walter Reed. His future wife, then a Navy volunteer working in intelligence, was asked to join a busload of women going to the hospital to dance with wounded soldiers. She agreed.
“He had his left arm up in the air, held there by a pole” and in a heavy plaster cast, Joyce Faulconer recalled, laughing. “So I danced holding on to a pole.”
Two years later, they were married. Jack Faulconer went on to earn a degree as an industrial engineer, worked for Alcoa and the Defense Department and retired in 1991. The couple lived in West Springfield, Va. for 39 years and now reside in the Heritage Hunt retirement community in Gainesville, Va. They have two children and seven grandchildren.