John (Jack) Furman was a laid-back, happy man who downplayed his war record before dementia took its toll, says a museum curator who interviewed him.
Ron Candy, who operates the Vernon Museum, described the 95-year-old as a soft-spoken guy who loved to laugh. He's as surprised as any who know Furman that he's charged with murdering his roommate.
"He didn't have an angry bone in his body - just a sweet old guy, Candy said Wednesday. "It's so out of character. But, of course, I don't know what dementia does to a person. It just pulls a person away from who they are."
Furman, who goes by the name Jack, was a decorated soldier during the Second World War. He was part of an elite force dubbed the Devil's Brigade and was wounded in battle in Italy. A machine-gunner shot him in the neck and chest, but he recovered and fought again in France.
Candy interviewed Furman about seven years ago for the Memory Project, a Canadian veterans archive. Furman received numerous medals, including the Bronze Star Medal from the U.S. Army, but was modest about his achievements.
"He loved to joke around. He had a wonderful disposition. He made you laugh," Candy said. "He talked about getting shot in the neck and showed me the scar."
Furman was born in Alberta and called up to the Canadian military. He volunteered for the First Special Service Force - an elite American-Canadian commando unit that was later made famous by a Hollywood movie called The Devil's Brigade. He became staff sergeant in a platoon of 20 men as the force landed on Italian beaches in 1943.
He collapsed from exhaustion during an attack on a German stronghold, but soon recovered. The Force went on to fight a mountain campaign that took a heavy toll on its fighters as many climbed the mountain in heavy rain roped to each other. In his interview with Candy, Furman admitted he couldn't stand to see people killing cows or pigs, let alone humans.
"You see guys that are seriously wounded and you wonder how in the hell we could do this to each other. It's just beyond imagination," he said. "To see some guy with part of a leg gone or hit in the face or something, it's terrible."
The Force disbanded after the war and Furman was discharged in 1946. He married his childhood sweetheart, Myrle Dunn of Lethbridge, and they moved to Vernon in 1971.
Candy helped assemble his medals and wrote a letter on his behalf to request the Bronze Star from the U.S. military. The medal had been awarded to American soldiers, but not the Canadians. He last spoke to Furman a year ago.
"He was still just a sweet, soft-spoken happy guy who loved to joke," Candy said.