WWII bomber pilot finds redemption thanks to Twin Cities military expert – Story
Tom Faulkner was a young B-24 pilot flying bombing missions into Germany with the 454th Bombardment Group during the end of World War II.
“I loved flying, I loved everything about it,” said Faulkner.
But his last mission would haunt him the rest of his life.
Dan Mathews is military records expert who heard about Faulkner and wanted to know more.
“He flew is last mission over Augsburg, Germany and when he took off, they pulled his navigator from the flight, just before he took off,” said Mathews.
It got worse.
“This was a bad day,” said Faulkner.
On the way to his target, he lost power in one engine and two of ship’s guns wouldn’t work.
“We got over the target and it was the worst target I have ever been over,” said Faulkner.
The intense flak took out a second engine. Losing power and altitude, he broke from his formation to save his plane and crew.
“I then told my bombardier and the whole crew that we were going to France and if we can’t find an air field, we’ll just bail out,” said Faulkner.
With no navigator, Faulker accidentally flew over neutral Switzerland and was forced to land in Zurich. By the rules of the Geneva Convention, Faulkner was sent home, but some fellow squadron members heard he broke formation for no reason.
“That I had ducked out of the war,” said Faulkner. “And that is the last thing that I ever wanted to do.”
“So, this started to bother Tom over the years because he couldn’t shake the stigma and he got more and more depressed and anxiety,” said Mathews. “And every night he would try and relive the flight and try and make things right, so he could make it to France.”
But given that Faulkner had saved his crew, Mathews had a hunch. He found Faulkner’s personnel file in the Air Force archives and searched the bomb group’s records.
“I went into April and I’m turning the pages and I turned to April 20 and there it was,” said Mathews. “Tom Faulkner in a list of other men who were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.”
It was right there in his file – one of the Air Force’s highest honors. For 68 years Faulkner never knew he was a hero.
At a ceremony in Texas, General John Nichols presented Faulkner his long overdue medal.
“And I teared up a little bit, and I’m not the one to go crying a lot, but it was an emotional moment,” he said.
An emotional moment all for an airman who always knew the truth and the Minnesota researcher who helped him find it.
“Well, there’s not a better man than Dan Mathews,” said Faulkner. “He saved my life, he literally saved my life.”