Korean War veteran scarred by experience
A Certificate of Appreciation from the United States Secretary of Defense and a lifetime membership certificate from the Korea Veterans Association of Canada are proud mementos that Curtis Faulkner of Valley hangs onto from his participation in the Korean War. HARRY SULLIVAN - TRURO DAILY NEWS
VALLEY - Growing up in Truro during the 1940s in close proximity to the Debert army base, Curtis Faulkner became fascinated at an early age with all things military.
He loved war movies, playing 'war' with his buddies and watching the Debert soldiers coming through town in their snappy uniforms. And seeing tanks and other military vehicles rolling along never failed to generate excitement.
"That's for me, that's for me," the Valley resident, now 81, recalls thinking of those long-ago days. "As a boy, I wanted to get into the military."
After the Korean War began in 1950, Faulkner learned that a couple of his buddies had volunteered with the Canadian Army Special Force.
Faulkner was 20 years old and working as a farm hand at the time, when his boyhood friend Leslie Fielding came home on leave from basic training in British Columbia.
"'I'm in Chilliwack. What a great place,'" Faulkner recalls his buddy telling him.
Having been born in Trenton and raised in Truro, that was the extent of Faulkner's travels at the time and with a strong sense of adventure overcoming all other thought, Faulkner decided to follow in his buddy's footsteps.
"Oh boy, that sounded great to me," he said, during a recent interview. "I had never been out of Truro in my life. So that night I said to mom that in the morning I'm going to Halifax to join the military."
"'What?'" she replied.
"I said, 'yep.'"
By the time he was ready to head off for his basic training, Fielding had already shipped off to Korea. And on the very day Faulkner was leaving for B.C., the reality of what he was about to face began to take shape.
"On the way out, getting on the train, my mother told me: 'Curtis,' she said, 'Leslie just got killed (during battle in Kapyong, South Korea)."
Faulkner, however, was too full of the prospects of adventure to fully appreciate the news.
"Never gave me a thought at all," he said. "I felt bad because he was my friend. And, a good friend. And that's all I was thinking."
After six month's of training in B.C. Faulkner was shipped off to Korea but it was not until he actually became embroiled in the effort himself that he began to see the war for the horror that it truly was.
"(After) the first three months, I didn't want to go back again," he said. "Once I seen things, different atrocities."
Now, some 60 years later, Faulkner still has no desire to speak of those 'atrocities.' And the little he does reveal barely touches on the scenes that that have scarred his mind.
"Little kids starving. And I mean little kids, like three and four years old, begging you for something to eat while you was stopped on the side of the road having your meal of C-rations, which was in a can. And we were eating there and they seemed to pop out of the sky. And they'd come up and you'd give them something to eat. You hated to ... we'd just load up and go and leave them," he said. "Their snotty noses and them shivering and cold and everything like that."
Overall, the conditions were "wet and miserable," he said. Beyond the heat and humidity, they had to deal with "all kinds of insects, rats everywhere..., mortar shells exploding around them, rifle fire and long lines of refugees seeking safety.
"I never seen a female for six months," he said, with the exception of those displaced from their homes.
"And the poor things shuffling along like they was in a different world. Things like that "pop up in my head ...," he said, pausing for a moment to reflect on the memory. "My god, what is this world made of?"
After a year in Korea, Faulkner returned home with absolutely no desire to go to war again.
"No, I didn't want to go back. I grew up very fast in the first few months," he said. "I'm not the same person I was ... it has changed me in different ways. It's made me more of a hardened person."
One thing that Faulkner always fully believed in and, which has not wavered in the decades since, however, is that Canada played an important role in joining other United Nations members in defending South Korea against its communist, aggressor sister, North Korea.
"I was proud every day of my military life and Canada being there," he said. "When we came back and landed in Seattle, Washington, I was very proud to be standing on the railing of that ship when we came in and the band's were playing. I was really proud.
"But, what I was disappointed in, once we crossed that border into Canada, we was on a troop train of soldiers ... and we were dispersed in different places coming across Canada ... They never knew who the hell we were."
Although the American government has recognized Canadian soldiers for their efforts in the Korean War, no official recognition has come from the Canadian government.
Even other veterans and the public at large have never seemed to fully grasp the sacrifices that were made, he said. And to this day, Faulkner still wonders why.
"I can't answer that ... I don't know."
Name: Curtis Faulkner
Hometown: Born in Trenton raised in Truro
Adult children: (all grown) Stephen, Mary Dempsey, Cheryl Frizzell and Brenda Dehaan.
Served for a year in the Korea War with the Royal Canadian Engineers of the Canadian Army Special Force.
Biggest letdown after returning home from Korean War: "We just come home and nobody seemed to know what was going on. Never knew about the Korean War. It was something that wasn't even going on."