On Nov. 28, 1944, U.S. Army Pvt. John "Jack" Faulconer was charging up a hill in the Saar Valley in Germany. In an instant, the 19-year-old machine gunner was hit in the arm by German machine gun fire.
Faulconer was badly injured, and crawled to a German trench, where he hid for hours until the enemy pulled back. His two ammunition carriers were killed.
The machine gunner's life would forever be altered by the experience, and, on Friday, he was finally awarded the Bronze Star for Heroism by U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11th District).
"What an honor to get this. It's very nice," said Faulconer, 88, who was accompanied by his wife, Joyce. The war "was terrible. All those young men in the prime of life losing their lives."
Connolly presented the medal from his District office in Annandale.
"It is a humbling, and yet a prideful moment for me to be able to present the Bronze (Star) Medal to Jack Faulconer for his bravery, his service to his country, long overdue," he said. "Jack was in a machine gun unit with General George Patton in France, and going into Germany… And it is an incredible part of our history that we must not lose, and it's still very much living history."
In 1947, based on the high level of combat infantrymen experienced, the Bronze Star Medal was authorized for veterans who received the Combat Infantryman’s Badge or Combat Medical Badge between December 7, 1941, to September 2, 1945. More than 16 million Americans served in World War II, and there are just 1.4 million still alive.
Faulconer called Connolly's office in August about receiving the medal.
"Obviously Jack is pretty sharp, so we had to dig up some old orders and do some research," said 1st Lt. Joe Wheeren, an aide to Connolly and member of the Virginia National Guard. "We found the orders, sent them to the Department of the Army in October, and heard back within two weeks."
Faulconer, a native of Washington, D.C., was in class at Woodrow Wilson High School when Japanese fighter planes attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
"It was a very warm day in Washington," he said Friday in Connolly's office, on the anniversary of the attacks, "and (President Franklin) Roosevelt was on all the loudspeakers of the high school, and said we are at war. And the teachers were crying, and it was a very tragic thing. There's no question about it."
Faulconer enlisted in 1943, after graduating from high school. He landed at Omaha Beach after D-Day, and was a machine gunner under General George Patton with the 95th Infantry Division.
"We thought we were the best in the world and the Germans felt they were the best in the world. At the time, they had, probably, the strongest army," he said.
On the fateful day of the battle, "Two members of my squad were killed right next to me, and I got up off the ground and found this German trench that had been dug at the top of the hill," Faulconer said. "A German trench is not like an American trench. What they had was little dugouts every so often, like little rooms. I crawled into one of those rooms, and it was about 3:30 in the afternoon, and wrapped up my arm as best I could. I was hit in the left arm. It was very serious. It splintered both bones and shattered the nerves.
"The Germans would always counter-attack after a retreat, and they had retreated off of this hill and the battle was over. Our Division came down off the hill and into the woods - away from the hill - and I was sitting up there in the hill in the trench waiting for dark to see what would happen, and I could hear the Germans talking, but luckily they didn't look at this little room I was in to find me. I was scared," he said.
Faulconer waited until dark to find his unit.
"They had a guard there at the division perimeter, and one of them saw me, and, of course, called the medics right away. My arm was just hanging off. They put me in a litter and strapped me on a jeep and drove me to the field hospital."
Faulconer underwent multiple surgeries, and was flown to hospitals in Paris and London before he was sent home to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC. He later received the Purple Heart and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
"In England, I was in the amputation ward. They were afraid they were going to have to take my arm off, but fortunately the good doctors at Walter Reed saved my arm," he said. "It never got completely well, but it's much better. I can do just about everything, but the bones were shattered and the nerves were frayed. The bones completely healed, but the nerves never fully healed. It affects my fingers a little bit."
Joyce Faulconer, a Navy intelligence officer, met her husband while he was recuperating at Walter Reed. "We met at a dance," she said. "I had to hold onto this pole he had with him, because his arm was in a sling."
After the war, Faulconer studied industrial engineering at the University of Maryland under the G.I. Bill. He spent a decade as an engineer for Alcoa, Inc. and 38 years with the Department of Defense before retiring in 1991.
He and Joyce lived in West Springfield for 39 years, and the couple have two children and seven grandchildren. They now live in the Heritage Hunt Retirement Community in Gainesville.