SYRACUSE (REUTERS) - An 89-year-old US World War II veteran who was wounded when his plane crashed in occupied France in 1944 is due to be honoured on Saturday with a medal he declined 70 years ago.
Richard Faulkner was 19 when the B-17 bomber in which he was flying collided with another allied aircraft, killing everyone except the staff sergeant, who found himself stranded behind enemy lines.
When he escaped Nazi-controlled territory Faulkner was offered the Purple Heart, but he declined it.
The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the US 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 reached out to her father-in-law's congressman, Democrat Dan Maffei, whose office determined that the veteran was still eligible to receive the medal. Maffei plans to visit Richard Faulkner's Auburn, New York, home on Saturday to present the award, his office said in a statement.
Faulkner was in the gun turret under the belly of the lumbering B-17 when the accident occurred, slicing his plane in two. He parachuted out.
"The next thing I knew I was in under my chute on a side hill," Faulkner recalled in an online posting on Scribd.com.
German soldiers searched for him, but the wounded airman hid and was later 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 the safety of England on April 16, 1944 after 29 days behind enemy lines.