My Childhood and WWII Memories by Gordon W. Foster
I was born November 23, 1920, in a rural farm house, four miles northeast of Waverly, Iowa, the son of Clarence and Mabel (Rust) Foster. I was delivered by Dr. Gurnsey. I was the fourth child of eight; Madelene, Elinor, Duane, Gordon, Merrill, Jimmy (who died shortly after birth), Shirley and Wesley. When I was three years old I was fat. We had a big round wash tub under the eave troughs to catch rain water for use in washing clothes. In the fall of the year the sun was just setting. I backed up on the sidewalk with a pail of cobs while looking at the beautiful sunset and I fell into the tub of water backwards. I couldn’t get out because I was so fat. My mother came out, saw me and lifted me out of the tub. She wanted to know what I was doing. I said, ‘I was looking at the sunset and it was plitty.’ At age five I started country school, two miles from home. We walked to and from school, through the farm fields every day. There were no buses. When the snow was very deep, Dad walked ahead and made a path for us. Also at age five, we had our chores to do morning and night. We started milking cows morning and night at age six. We went barefoot from the end of March to the middle of September. I can remember getting cows home from the pasture to be milked in the morning in the month of September. We would run from one place to another where the cows had been laying down to warm our feet. As a little child doing chores, we had to pick up cobs from the horse manger and from the hog lot for Mother to burn in the cook stove. Another chore was picking up eggs from the hen house. A lot of times there were old setting hens on the nests guarding the eggs. They would peck our hands as we tried to get the eggs from under them. Another chore was shutting up the geese at night. When we went to shut the door the gander would grab us with his bill. Sometimes he would take the skin off our fingers. He bit me on the nose once. That hurt the worst!
When we were children we never went to a doctor when we were sick. Castor oil was the answer to any sickness. I can remember going to the doctor twice. I cut my head open when the hay knife fell out of the barn and hit me on the head. The doctor stitched it up and I still have the scar on my forehead. We raised our own navy beans (no pork and beans in a can from the store). In the fall we pounded them out with a pitch fork and put them in a flour sack to dry. In the winter time all of us sat around the kitchen table and sorted the good ones from the bad ones. One day I stuck two up my nose. My folks put black pepper under my nose, hoping I would sneeze and blow them out. It didn’t work. So Dad had to take me to the doctor and have them dug out. Dad was not a happy camper and neither was I. The only shots we received were small pox shots for the five oldest children. When one got the measles, all of us got the measles. When one got a cold, we all got a cold. If we were sick, castor oil or mustard plasters (for colds) was the cure. When we were sick we got to hold our nose when Mother gave us a spoonful of castor oil. We also got to suck on a lemon afterwards. A spoonful of castor oil was also Mother’s good punishment when we were naughty, only we didn’t get to hold our nose or suck on a lemon. For some reason that didn’t help us to keep out of trouble!
When we three older boys were too young to go threshing in the summer time we got into most of our trouble. I remember one day we at a lot of green grapes. You guessed it, castor oil, no nose holding and no lemon. One day we boys caught a rooster and put him in the stock tank (a big tank that held water for the cows and horses to drink). We held him under until the bubbles came, then we pulled him out and would do it again. Of course the girls tattled on us. Mother came up behind us, threw us all in the tank until the bubbles came, then sat us in front of the barn with the wet rooster until we all dried out. We never did that again. When we boys were around 10 or 11 we went to the Cedar River while Dad was threshing. We were going to learn how to swim. We went to the Schlaberg bridge. (When Waverly was first inhabited, a man had a sawmill where the river turns east. The water is about ten foot deep. He used to yell at his wife and people in the town of Waverly could hear him yelling, so they called it ‘Yell City’.) That is where we learned how to sink or swim; all three of us learned how to swim. How crazy can kids be. Another trick we pulled, we went into the henhouse, got some eggs and threw them up against the corncrib to watch them spatter. That was fun until Dad got home from threshing!! All three of us got punished for that.
On the farm we raised corn, oats and hay. Corn was for the pigs to eat, oats for the horses and hay for the cows and horses. The oats were sowed with a grain drill and produced about 30 to 40 kernels to each stem. When the oats were ripe in July they were cut with an oat binder and tied up in bundles with a twine around the middle. The farmer would set up eight bundles on the straw end and the ninth bundle he would fold in the middle and put on top so the rain wouldn’t get the oats wet. These shocks were left in the field for about three weeks. The neighbor farmers all got together and formed a threshing ring, consisting of about ten farmers. One farmer owned the threshing machine and steam engine or tractor to operate it. In those days we didn’t have combines. The threshing machine is belted by an engine and separates the oats from the straw. The farmer who owned the threshing machine ran the equipment. Seven farmers hauled bundles. They would take their horses and hayracks, go to the field, take a three tine fork and load the bundles on the rack until they had a big load, then haul them up to the threshing machine. The bundles were thrown into the threshing machine one at a time, then were torn apart by knives in the machine. The bundles then went through a cylinder that was turning about 1000 rpms. That knocked the oats off the straw, then it went over the shakers. The oats fell through the shakers and the straw was blown out of the machine into a straw pile. The oats were augered to a triple box wagon. It took two farmers to stack the straw while one farmer took care of the oats, took the wagon load of oats and elevated them into the barn. Usually there was a bootlegger in the neighborhood. He would bring some whiskey to the farmers and they would drink it during the day. They would keep the bottle hidden from us boys (they thought). I can remember when we boys were too little to help thresh. We found one of their bottles and hid it. After they were gone, we caught one of our old drakes, took a spoon and spooned some of it down his throat. After about 15 minutes we set him out in the yard. Of course we hid in the barn and watched him stagger across the yard and quack so loud you could have heard him a mile away. Mother came tearing out of the house and wanted to know what had happened to her precious drake. Of course, we kept hidden in the barn so she couldn’t find us. The next day the old drake was fine.
When we boys were seven or eight years old we had lots of wild animals as pets. We had a pair of possums [sic] in a cage, they had babies and we raised them. We had a pet crow. Mother would hang clothes on the clothes line and he would come along and pull the clothes pins off and the clothes fell on the ground. That crow didn’t live too long (Mother took care of that). We caught a woodchuck and put him in a steel tank with a cover on it. The next morning he was gone. We never did figure out how he got out. We tried out [sic] best to catch a skunk. We never caught one, but never got sprayed. We had a field of wild ha and would go down with a little wagon, catch a bull snake and a garter snake and bring them up to the house. Then we would tease the girls with the snakes.
We went to country school the first eight grades. Our school was called the Grove School. I can remember at one time there were 32 children in the school with one teacher. We must have learned something, most of us graduated from high school. The school was heated with wood. In the winter of 1932 I was 12 years old. In was cold one morning when the Lairds Implement building in Waverly burned down. That night when we got home, Dad had been to town to see the fire and said it was 32 below zero with no wind. Dad said that night if he had known it was that cold, he would not have sent us to school. We did not have TV or radio to hear how cold it was. And to think we walked. We had a great time in country school. In the summer we played ball during recess and the noon hour. Even the teacher would come out and play with us. In the spring we would drown out streaked gophers. We’d take a piece of string, make a loop, put it over the gopher hole, pour water down the hole and when he stuck his head out, we pulled the string tight around his neck and we had our gopher. We tried to take them in the school house, but the teacher would not let us. We would let them go and play with them another day. We made hoop and guides. We’d take a top ring off a ten gallon milk can, take a three foot lathe as a handle and a six inch lathe nailed across the bottom and push the ring around the yard. It was fun. Lathe is a piece of board, one inch wide, three feet long and a half inch thick. They originally were nailed on the inside of a house about a half inch apart then plastered on top and in between to make a wall. We got lathe from an old house that we used as a hen house. In the winter time, when there was snow, we played fox and goose, crocked ring and slid down the hill behind the school house sitting on a board. There was a creek behind the school house. I remember one spring day the creek was running full with water. We got there and we older children could jump across. But our little sister, Shirley, was in first grade and could not make the jump. Some eighth grade boys came down to the creek to help us get her across. My older brother said, ‘I will throw her over the creek and you catch her.’ He didn’t throw her quite far enough and she landed in the middle of the creek. One of the big boys grabber her and pulled her out of the water. She sat behind the wood stone in the school house most of the day getting dry.
Two big holidays we got to celebrate were the Fourth of July and Christmas. On the Fourth of July we had all the ice cream we could eat and set off lots of firecrackers. Dad would buy five gallons of ice cream from Roy’s Place (where they made the famous egg cheese). At Christmas time we got one toy. Dad didn’t have any brothers or sisters. Mother had seven brothers and sisters, but they all lived far away. So we did not have relative to visit at Christmas.
We also got to celebrate Easter. We got to eat eggs three meals a day from our own hens. We had fried eggs for breakfast, deviled eggs for dinner and scrambled eggs for supper.
The depression started in 1933. My parents had very little money and a large family to feed. We had a big vegetable garden, acres of potatoes, four kinds of berries, along with all the other vegetables and fruits, including apples and grapes. It was our job to keep the gardens clean from weeks. Mother canned fruits, vegetables and meats in two quart jars. One day in the fall we would take the horses and wagon to Grandma’s house and pick choke cherries from the trees. Mother made jam out of the cherries and apples.
The water for washing clothes was heated in a copper boiler on the cook stove (heated with corn cobs and wood). We boys had to take turns pulling the handle that turned the agitator in the washing machine. The water was from a cistern under the house. (Rain water from the roof of the house ran into the cistern and that was our soft water.) The water was pumped out of the cistern into the sink with a cistern pump.
We didn’t have electricity, running water, bathrooms, clothes driers (our clothes drier was a clothes line outdoors hooked between two trees, which we still use), microwaves, TV or radio. We took a bath once a week, whether we needed it or not, in a big round wash tub in the kitchen. Again, water was heated on the cook stove. In the summer we went to the river and swam. We didn’t know about McDonalds, Sub City, Pizza Hut, etc.; they didn’t exist. The only treat we had was ice cream from Roy’s Place on the Fourth of July. In the winter time, every Saturday and during Christmas vacation, we went to the woods with Dad to cut our supply of wood. We didn’t have chain saws, just a cross cut saw with one of us boys at each end pulling it back and forth. We used a sledge and wedges to split the logs so we could lift them and haul them home on either a wagon or bobsled, piled the wood at home, and then in the spring sawed it with a buzz saw for firewood. The butternut and white oak were cut in six foot lengths and split for fence posts. In the spring we would take the bark off, let them dry and in the summer use them for building fences. Dad made our ball bats out of white ash. He would make them with a drawing knife. Hickory was used in our smoke house to smoke meat.
My Dad loved sports. We had our own baseball team, playing in the pasture (which was the first ‘Field of Dreams’ in Iowa). When I was six, I played second base, when I got bigger I was the catcher. My older brother was the pitcher and my younger brother played second. One team we played was the Children’s Home (now Bremwood). The minister was the coach. We went there to play because they could not leave the grounds. We played teams from Waverly, Readlyn, Douglas, Plainfield and Bremwood. We won 95% of the games. My sister, Elinor, still has the record book for a lot of the games we played.
In the summer we played baseball. In the fall we went hunting; ducks, squirrels, pheasants and rabbits. Whatever we shot we took home to eat. In the spring we hunted jack rabbits.
In the winter, on some Sunday afternoons, and after milking, we would walk to the Cedar River (four miles) to play hockey. We used willow limbs for hockey sticks, a tin can for the puck and the goalie had a scoop shovel to protect the goal. We had to use the scoop shovel first to clean the snow off the ice.
During the depression we could not afford sugar, so Dad would buy black strap molasses in gallon tins from Ragsdales in Janesville. We also bought strained honey from a neighbor in gallon cans. (Little did I know that one day I would marry his daughter. After 60 years we are still together.) Talk about recycling. We would take the empty gallon cans and use them for our dinner pails for school. When we picked berries in the summer time, we would use the gallon cans. We would put a piece of string around the handle and then around our neck so we could pick the berries with both hands.
In the fall some neighbors would get together and butcher some hogs. Again, the tin cans were filled with rendered lard. The farmers who helped butcher would also have fresh meat at their house. When Dad butchered we would have tenderloins for supper that night. It was a narrow strip of meat on both sides of the backbone, the most tender meat you could have from a pig. Some of the meat was smoked in our smoke house, and Mother canned the rest of it in tin cans.
In 1933 to 1936 there was the depression, very dry and very windy. That is when all the dust from Nebraska and South Dakota blew into Iowa. I have seen times when a four foot fence was covered with dirt blown from there. (Just like today when we get a blizzard and snow piles up behind the snow fence.) In those days every field had a fence around it, the grass in the fence row would catch the dirt. During that time if a farmer could not pay his loan at the bank, the bank would foreclose. The bank would have a Sheriff’s sale, sell all the equipment and livestock until they had the amount of money the farmer owed the bank. The farmers all got together and agreed not to pay over $1.00 for anything. When the sale was over, they would give the farmer back whatever they bought. Each farmer would be out just $1.00. The farmer that the bank had foreclosed would keep right on farming.
In those days we didn’t have to worry about high cholesterol. In the spring through the fall season we had fried potatoes, bacon and fried eggs every morning. Of course, we did half a day’s work before breakfast, milked and fed the cows, harnessed the horses and be in for breakfast at 6:00 a.m. After breakfast we would be in the field at 7:00 a.m. During the winter months we would have buckwheat pancakes that were from a starter Mother kept behind the stove.
In June, 1941 I went to work at Ziedlers in Waterloo to help make cement tile. We received $.50 an hour for shoveling rock. I rode with a neighbor boy who also worked there. On December 11, 1941, WWII was declared. At Christmas time we had a big snow storm. They shut the plant down and then I was drafted into the Army. The six months I worked at Ziedlers I saved $300. At that time we could buy a pound of chocolate drops and a pound of salted peanuts for 10 cents. So you see that $300 could go a long way.
I was inducted into the Army at Fort Des Moines on July 3, 1942, came home for two weeks and then went to Jefferson Barracks in Missouri. From Waverly to Waterloo I rode the Inner Urban. (At that time the train went right down main street, run by electricity that had an electric line above it all the way from Waverly to Waterloo.) Then I took a train from Waterloo to Missouri. The base pay at that time $21.00 a month. $6.60 was for life insurance ($10,000) and $5.00 was for laundry. That left $9.40 a month for toothpaste, etc. at the PX (Post Exchange).
The first week we were in the Army, everyone got a GI haircut. They had a building with about twenty barbers, side by side. I had a good friend by the name of J.J. West. He was a very handsome, sharp man with a beautiful head of hair. J.J. told the barber just how he wanted his hair cut, a little here and a little there. The barber must not have been able to hear. J.J. came out of the barbershop with a beautiful GI haircut, just liek the rest of us. Boy, was he ‘angry’!
While we were in Missouri, we learned to take orders. The first day they issued us dog tags, which were carried around our necks at all times. (I had my dog tags and uniform until our house burned in 1972.) That was our identification, printed on our dog tags were our names, religion, blood type and military ID number. They told us at the time that we would learn that number and remember it all our life. Boy, how right they were. I remember mine to this day, better than my Social Security number, bank number or any other number I have been given. While in Missouri we were issued our Army clothes, duffel bag, mess kit, helmet, half a pup tent and our blankets. (Each of us got half a pup tent, then teamed up in pairs to make a full tent.) All the while I was in the States that bed had to be made perfect and the shoes had to be shined. I was in Missouri for just one week. One day I had to pull KP. We had to help in the kitchen. In the States they furnish all the dishes to eat out of. One night we had our dishes all washed and put away at 8:00 p.m. and were just ready to go back to the barracks. A Sergeant came in, grabbed up a dish, started swearing and said, ‘All of these dishes are dirty.’ We had to rewash all of them and we got done at 11:00 p.m. This was just one incident how we learned to take orders and not talk back. One day we carried rock from one pile to another. The next day we carried them back again. Before supper we had to police the area, pick up cigarette butts and anything that was not hooked down.
After one week I was transferred to Fort Eustus, Virginia. We traveled on a troop train from Missouri to Virginia. On the train I got to sleep in an upper berth. That was a treat. We went through a tunnel in West Virginia. That was another thing I didn’t know existed. While in Fort Eustus, we were still learning how to take orders and like it! The Army couldn’t make you do some things, but they could make you wish you had done whatever they told you to do. For example, we went on a twenty mile hike. A couple of us thought we would be smart so we took our gas masks out of the container and hid them in our foot locker. We put our field jackets in the container where the gas mask was supposed to be so it looked like we had our gas mask with us. On the way back, about 200 yards from base they hollered, ‘gas’. Everybody jerked their gas masks out and put them on. Everybody but the two of us. Nothing was said to us. We went back, took showers and lined up for supper. While waiting in line our names were called, ‘report back to the parade ground in full field pack in ten minutes.’ We had to do double time around the parade grounds for half an hour with our gas masks on. We about died, we couldn’t get any air. We would hold our fingers by our mouths so we could breath, but they knocked that finger out in a hurry. After it was over the Sergeant asked if we had learned anything. We did. We went back to the barracks, took a shower and went to the mess hall. Supper was just over. We went to bed without eating. We had to do calisthenics, go through every kind of maneuvers and practice at the rifle range and on anti-aircraft guns. We would go on 30 mile hikes with full field packs. Our hikes and maneuvers didn’t bother me. Being a farm boy I was in shape, but the city boys suffered. On a march, the short boys always had to be in front and we tall ones in back. The short ones would not have been able to keep up with us. We learned how to march in a parade. We were on the parade ground learning how to march with our rifle on our shoulder: right flank, left flank, about face. We weren’t doing too good, so the Sergeant said, ‘mount your bayonets on your files.’ We learned about face in a hurry! If you didn’t turn around on command, you would run your face into the bayonet on the rifle ahead of you. One day they took us down the Virginia Beach to see the Atlantic Ocean. It was the first time I had seen a huge body of water. Another time we went to Williamsburg, VA to see all the Revolutionary and Civil War relics.
After six weeks of training, on September 20, 1942, we left Virginia on a troop train. Our shots were tetanus and typhoid. One hurt terrible when they gave it. After that it didn’t hurt a bit. The other didn’t hurt when they gave it to you, but two days later you couldn’t raise your arm. I was in the States for just two months for GI inspections. I did not like to stand for inspection. (After I arrived overseas, no more inspections.) When we got to New York we went over the city in an elevated train. I looked down and I couldn’t believe my eyes, what a big city looked like. I went to Vermont, then to Indian Town Gap, Pennsylvania. These were holding areas for shipment of men going overseas out of New York.
For three days we were waiting to load on the Queen Mary, then to Pier 69 in New York to board for overseas. This was 11:00 p.m. on September 27, 1942, when I boarded. I could just see the Statue of Liberty. When I awoke the next morning, all I could see was water. The Queen Mary as the second largest passenger ship in the world at that time. Only the Queen Elizabeth was larger. It was 11 feet longer than the Queen Mary, both British ships. There were 15,000 fully equipped solders [sic] and 3,000 British crew on board. We left New York without an escort because no ship could keep up with the Queen Mary at 39 knots. The minute we got on ship, we received $10.00 a month more. We slept on G deck, which was 6 decks below water level. There were 6 decks above water level. From the bottom to the top deck was the same as a 12 story house. There were 300 of us sleeping in hammocks in one compartment. Every day the men from each compartment came on top deck for one hour for fresh air, calisthenics and our main meal, which consisted of either lamb, veal or mutton (British food), and tea. The Queen Mary had two full sized swimming pools. One was full of food and the other had our duffel bags with our Army number stenciled on the outside. In the Army a name didn’t mean a thing, only our Army number. On the third night out from New York, in the middle of the night we woke up and were all lying on the floor out of our hammocks with a fire extinguisher shooting foam on the ceiling. A British crewman stepped through the door and said, ‘Everybody back in your hammocks, nothing to worry about.’ Later on we found out the Queen Mary had dodged a German torpedo. The Queen Mary was so large, it would hit three waves at a time, which is the reason it wasn’t a rough ride. The Queen Mary never went on a straight course. Every three minutes it would zig zag so the Germans could not get a good shot at it with their torpedoes. It took us five days to go from New York to dock outside of Ireland. On the last day before we got there, the Queen Mary was slowing down to about 20 knots. I just happened to be on deck at 11:00 a.m. when a British destroyer came out to escort us. He made one circle around us. We were slowing down, but he misjudged the Queen Mary’s speed. He went in front of us, too close, and the Queen Mary cut the destroyer in two like a knife cuts butter. One half of the destroyer went on one side and the other half went on the other side. I happened to be standing by the railing and saw the one half go by my side. That is the first time I saw death in the service. No one on the destroyer survived. There was so much turbulence behind the Queen Mary that it sucked both halves of the destroyer into the ocean before anyone could come out and rescue them. The officers gave us strict orders not to mention this incident to anyone when we got off that boat. We dropped anchor in the ocean because there was no harbor deep enough for the Queen Mary to dock.
It took us two days waiting to get on small boats and go into Londondery, Ireland on the northern coast on October 4, 1942. From there we were transferred to Belfast on the Eastern shore. We joine the 72nd Anti-Aircraft Battalion, a national guard outfit from New York. We were later changed to the 209th Anti-Aircraft Battalion. While in Ireland we set up AAA guns to protect Ireland from German aircraft. All around Belfast they had thousands of little dirigibles filled with helium tied on 200 foot cables to hold them in place. We joked that the dirigibles were there to keep Ireland from sinking with all our 100,000 troops there. The reason they were there was to keep the German plans [sic] from strafing the island. South Ireland was a free country and no one was allowed there. The islands were separated by the Moran Mountains (just a high hill). We were in North Ireland. One day I went to the top of the Moran Mountains, stepped over the line, just to say I was in South Ireland. From the top of the mountain you could look down and see the Atlantic Ocean. All the farms were about 40 acres with a hedge around each farm. It was a beautiful sight.
The second week I was in Ireland, the Sergeant called me in and sent a Corporal and myself downtown to guard a house of ill repute. A big blonde came out of that house and called us every name in the book and then some. Boy, were we scared and were we glad when we were off duty at midnight. We were supposed to keep all GIs out of that house. While I was in Ireland, we would sneak down to the pub to get fish, chips and soda. When we were in Ireland we had to pay for our cigarettes, shaving cream, etc. When we were in combat, the cigarettes, shaving cream, and soap were free. V-mail was free in combat.
We left Ireland on December 18, 1942. We boarded a P.A. boat, went north up the North Irish Sea (the roughest water in all my boat rides), went around the north end of Ireland and joined a convoy. The convoy consisted of more troop transports, one battle ship two cruisers and five destroyers. While going up the North Irish Sea, I stood right in the middle of the boat. That way I didn’t get sea sick. (Of all the boat rides I had, I never got sea sick. I was very fortunate.) We were on the boat on Christmas Day and New Years Day. For Christmas we had lamb for breakfast, sheep for dinner and mutton for supper with British tea to drink. You guessed it, we were on another British ship. The same menu was served for New Years Day. We traveled south past the equator about 150 miles. The Germans thought we were going around Cape Town, South Africa, and coming up on the east side of Africa, landing behind them. Instead we turned around, came back up and went through the Straits of Gilbralter, 22 miles between the rock and North Africa.
We landed in Oran, Africa on January 3, 1943. At that time we had to fight the French for three days before they joined the American Army. We set up to guard the Kasserine Pass. It was the route for General Rommel (the Desert Fox) to get to North Africa. (Algiers and Oran were big shipping ports.) After Rommel was turned back, we went through Constantine, Algeria as far as Berzerta, then back and guarded the port of Algiers. We set up our gun on a hill above the town of Algiers to guard the harbor. That night it rained and rained. We crawled in our pup tents and hoped to dry out. The next morning when we got up the sun was shining and we never saw another cloud the whole time we were there, about four months. They told us, when we moved in that night, it was the end of the rainy season.
We were told not to go up and down the Cashbah, a narrow crooked street about four feet wide where all the crooks, drug addicts, etc. lived. They lived just back off the street. You could look in and see them smoking their pot. The only other way to get downtown to Algiers was to wait for a truck to take us on a different route. Since we only had a three hour pass, that just didn’t seem reasonable. We never went down alone through the Cashbah. We always carried our grease guns that held 22 rounds of 45 caliber ammunition. For the four months we lived there I never had any trouble. While we were station above Algiers, I volunteered for night guard duty so I could go swimming in the Mediterranean Sea about every day. The temperature reached over 100° every day with zero percent humidity. While in Algiers I met up with the Chicago Bears football players Bill George and George Conner. That is why I became a Chicago football fan.
While in Africa I became a good friend of a 1st Lieutenant from Texas. About once a month he would go to in to Algiers and get drunk. Then he would start causing trouble, waving his guns around and firing at the ceiling, but not doing too much damage. They would notify the Colonel. He would get in touch with me, ‘Come to headquarters, I have a jeep waiting for you to go down and bring your buddy home. He is raising a ruckus’. I would go down there, walk up to him and he would have a sickly grin on his face. I would say, ‘Come on my boy, it is time to go home, you have made enough trouble for tonight.’ I would take his guns and he would follow me like a little dog. That was friendship.
In Africa we had to take two atabrine tablets every day to keep from getting malaria. I always took min, but I still got malaria. I have heard there was more malaria in Africa than in the South Sea Islands. I was in the 38th evacuation hospital (actually a big tent) for five days with a very high temperature.
In the evenings the kangaroo rats would come out of their hole in the ground. We would chase them for house. We never did catch one.
In Africa the Arabs would come around and sell us oranges, grapes, wine and tangerines. I wouldn’t buy the tangerines because they were so little and shriveled. After the guys convince me to try one, that is all I ever bought. The water was rationed and as Africa was under British rule, the Army could get water, but they put all of it into British tea. The water was polluted, so they boiled it and made it into tea. That is why I hate tea to this day. Inland from the coast the Arabs grew lots of beautiful vineyards. They irrigated them from the hills above. We thought about drinking the water in the irrigation ditch until we saw the Arabs swimming in it. The town of Algiers lies right beside the Mediterranean Sea. Go south about a mile and it get 2000 feet above sea level. That is where the water comes for irrigating the grapes and oranges, etc. Go south of there and there is the Sahara Desert. One day a couple of us went south just to see what a desert looked like. We saw Arabs leading a large camel train. Each camel had a pack on each side of his back. Where they were going and where they came from, we had no idea. I was amazed at the vast amount of nothing but sand. It reminded me of the ocean. In Africa they raise a lot of grapes. You have seen the I Love Lucy show where Lucy is stomping grapes. That is actually the way they did it in Africa. The women did all the stomping. The Arabs would cut out the bottom of a wine bottle leaving the top of the bottle sealed so it looked like it had never been opened. They filled the bottle with water then glued the bottom back on and they sold it as wine. It didn’t take us long to catch onto that trick. The Arabs were crazy about candy bars. They would trade fruit, wine, and anything they had for candy bars.
Casablanca was a town west of Oran. We were sent over there to pull guard duty. There was a Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill conference in Casablanca in January, 1943. While I was on guard duty I saw them from about two blocks away. Bob Hope and Frances Langford were in Africa entertaining the troops. There were so many officers and non-commissioned officers there that we could just barely see them from a distance, so we went back to our tents.
After about four months, we sailed for Naples, Italy. We landed in Salerno, went through Naples, and north to the Abby. (The Abby was a monastery.) We could not advance to Rome. There was a 22-mile stretch between the Abby and the mountains to the west. The Germans were fortified in the Abby. We never got through. We set up our equipment on a hill above Naples. While we were there I experienced my first earthquake. That is why caused Mount Vesuvius to erupt in March, 1944. The lava flowed down the south side of the mountain and covered one of our Air Force bases.
One day the Air Force was going to knock out the Abby. All afternoon, one wave after another, short range bombers (Flying Fortress, Liberators, B-25 Mitchells and A26 Maradors) dropped their bombs on the Abby. They could not get it knocked out. While we were watching the road coming into the Abby from the north, German ambulances kept coming in to the Abby. As you know, ambulances carry wounded men. After many of them kept coming in and going out from the Abby, we got suspicious. When the next ambulance came in from the north, we opened up with out 90 mm guns. We hit that ambulance and blew it up a mile high, because of all the ammunition they were hauling in it. If it had been a regular ambulance carrying wounded people, we would have been court marshaled. That was the last of the ambulances going in and out of the Abby.
We pulled back to Naples, then went on a boat up the coast of Italy to Anzio Beachhead. We could dig our fox holes four feet deep with our helmets because it was so sandy. We lived in fox holes, two men to a hole with a tent over top. The Army would dig a hole with a bulldozer, push the dirt towards the enemy lines and store the extra ammunition in the holes. One day the Germans dropped a howitzer shell in the hole and blew up all the ammunition. That is where I got burned so badly. I was in the hospital (another tent) and they tried to give me blood transfusions. They couldn’t find a vein. I found out later that with burn victims you can not find veins.
The Germans had a railroad gun mounted on three flat cars on the eastern shore of Italy, straight east of the Anzio Beachhead. They would pull the gun out of the tunnel and fire on Anzio Beachhead. Then they would pull it back in the cave at night. The shells from the railroad gun were point detonator (meaning the shells would explode the minute the point hit something). One of those shells that was fired on Anzio Beachhead near us made a hole in the ground large enough to bury a two story house. We had our photo joes, which were little piper cub airplanes. (We called them photo joes because they could spot enemy positions and enemy activities for us.) One day the Germans were pulling the railroad gun out of the cave. Our photo joes radioed us that the gun was being pulled out. We knew the distance so we opened up with a battery (four guns) of 90 mm armor piercing shells. We knocked the railroad gun out.
Most of the 2-ton trucks in the Army were GMCs. Jeeps were made by Willis or Ford. Our 10-ton trucks that pulled the big guns were made by ED. I don’t know who that is. The Germans tried to knock out all the bridges as they retreated. If the bridge was knocked out, our engineers would build a bridge across the river. They would take a lot of flat bottom boats, put them side by side with the nose pointing up the river, and have a cable tied from one bank to the other. The little boats would be tied to that cable. On the boats was steel decking (the same as the airport runways were made of). Then we could drive our tanks right across the decking.
Our officers in the front lines did not wear their medals. They wanted to blend in with the regular soldiers. The enemy wouldn’t take an officer, they would kill them. Regular soldiers would be taken prisoner.
Hitler’s SS troops were life-time soldiers of the regular German Army. All the other German soldiers were drafted just like we were. We did not take SS soldiers as prisoners. They fought to the finish.
The war in Italy was a forgotten war. All the United States and England were thinking about was the invasion across the English Channel. We had divisions on Anzio Beachhead that could have broken through the German lines and gone past Rome with very little resistance. However, the General in charge of Anzio Beachhead wanted a lot more divisions. By the time we got them, Germany had reinforced their front line with tank divisions. After we knocked the railroad gun out, we headed north through Rome. While I was in Rome I saw the Coliseum and the Mother Church. I never saw so much gold in my life! I walked in the front door of the church and straight ahead was the main pulpit. On both sides of the church were smaller pulpits. We were given strict orders not to demolish any buildings in Rome. There was too much United States money tied up there. If you got up in a church steeple you could look for miles in any direction. That is where the German spotters observed all our movements and how much equipment we had and what we were doing. After we left Rome, in spite of our orders, very few church steeples were left intact.
After breaking through the German lines, we headed for Civitavecchia, Italy, 110 miles north of Rome. While I was in anti-aircraft, I was trained to spot all kinds of planes from the air. One look at a plane in the air and I could tell a German M.E. 109 from a Spitfire, P38 or E.T.C. On the way to Civitavecchia our kitchen truck finally caught up with us for one day. We were going to have pancakes for breakfast. What a treat from ‘C’ rations. We had five new recruits that had just joined us a few days earlier. No one was supposed to line up for food behind the kitchen truck, but we did anyway. I happened to look over to the west and saw two German M.E. 109s flying very low. I hollered, ‘Enemy aircraft to the right.’ The five new recruits ran for cover. The rest of us hit the ground crosswise of the path of the planes. One bullet kicked dirt in my face as the planes strafed us. There were five injured men, the new ones. You learn in a hurry what to do to keep from getting hurt in an emergency. After reaching Civitavecchia we pulled back to the Anzio Beachhead.
We boarded an L.S.I. (landing ship for infantry). Our equipment was put on an L.S.T. (landing ship for tanks). These boats are flat-bottom boats with the front end swinging down. We tried to make our landing at low tide. The boat didn’t get on land, but the bottom was on sand in about three feet of water. The front end dropped down and we ran out of the boat into the water and up on the sandy beach. When high tide came in it would raise the boats off the sand and they could drive away and get another load. Before heading out in the Mediterranean Sea, we put cosmoline (a heavy grease) on all of our equipment so the machines would not get rusty from salt water. We left Anzio Beachhead on August 8, 1944 and landed at Toulon, in Southern France, a little east of Marseille, on August 14, 1944.
All of this time I was with Company B, 209th Anti-Aircraft Battalion, the 7th Army under General Clark. We met very little resistance. We headed north from Toulon to Grenoble, France. Between Toulon and Grenoble we set up our equipment outside of a small village. There was a large dairy farm and the cooks from the kitchen went there and bought a lot of whole milk for supper. There were about 200 guys in our company at the time. We had been used to ‘K’ rations when our kitchen was with us: dried milk, dried potatoes, etc. That night we drank our fill of milk. The next morning everyone was sick with diarrhea. At another village that we set up at, one guy shot a deer. They cleaned it and hung it up to cool. At midnight we got orders to move out and so the deer stayed. The French had good deer meat to eat.
At this time the German air force was practically eliminated, so the 209th Anit-Aircraft [sic] Battalion was disbanded. Most of the men were transferred to the MPs. At roll call, J.J. West and I were transferred to the Infantry. We were hauled to another town and joined an infantry division there. J.J. walked up to me and said, ‘I will never go to the Infantry.’ He walked up to a cement wall, doubled up his fist, and hit it just as hard as he could. I just about threw up to see the bones come out of the back of his hand. He told the Company Commander he fell and broke his hand. I never saw or heard from J.J. again.
After being in the Infantry for one week, my name was called at roll call and I was transferred to the 12th Armor Division in the 7th Army. They had just come overseas from Kentucky where they had been on maneuvers. They thought they knew it all. I was a tank gunner in Company B. I was the one who aimed and shot the gun. In each tank we have five men; the ammunition man who loaded the gun, the tank gunner who shot the gun, two drivers (the driver and assistant driver who had a 30 caliber machine gun in front of him), and the tank commander who was the boss and had a 50 caliber machine gun that he used. Our first battle with tanks was the battle of Herishiem, France. Instead of spreading out and taking the town from three sides, the guys from Kentucky went right down the road, one tank in front of another. My tank was the last one in the column. The Germans cut the road off and we lost 110 tanks in two hours. The last few tanks in the column pulled off to the side and went back to headquarters. After we got replacements and new tanks, we took the town of Herishiem and never lost a tank. It didn’t take long to find out what a battle was really like. You don’t learn the answers on maneuvers in the States. In the second battle, we spread our tanks out and took the town from three sides. In the first battle, our men were taken as prisoners.
Our guns would only go 2° below zero. The Germans would dig back in a hill and knock our tanks out with anti-tank guns. We had to back over the hill and by that time the motor was burned out (the first tank that I was in that had to have new motors put in). Those tanks had 75 mm guns mounted on them.
The new tank we got had a 90 mm gun with 3.35 inch shells. The muzzle velocity was 2,200 feet per second. (That is the speed of the bullet as it comes out of the gun barrel.) From Grenoble we went through Lyon and Dijon. When we were 25 miles south of Paris, we turned east and went to Riems. I didn’t know it but my brother, Duane, was in Paris at that time. From Riems we headed to Nancy. We were near a farm that had chickens. We bought 30 dozen eggs and put them on the back side of the tank. We turned the turret to fire off the gun and broke every egg. That night we had to clean up the tank, washing egg yolk off from it.
We had no kitchen trucks when we were in the field in combat. While in Africa we had ‘C’ rations. A ‘C’ ration contained three tin cans. The breakfast can had [sic] dried eggs, the lunch had some form of macaroni, and the supper can had corned beef hash with two crackers and three Chelsey cigarettes. Then when we were in France we got ‘K’ rations. They came in a box. They were supposed to be better. I lived on ‘C’ and ‘K’ rations about half the time and I didn’t die. They must have been healthy.
One day we were waiting for headquarters to catch up when a photo joe (our little spotter plane) radioed us there was a bridge 18 miles ahead of us. I thought, let’s see what we can do. If you couldn’t hit an object sitting still, you had better let someone else do it. I set the gun at 47° altitude and fired one round. I was over and to the right of the bridge. I readjusted the gun, fired again and missed to the left. Each time the plane would tell me just how far and where I missed. The third shot I put a 3 inch hole through the floor of the bridge. We didn’t knock the bridge out, but we had fun trying. One day while we were in some timber waiting for orders to advance, we wanted to see if we could recoil the 90mm gun. When you fired a gun, it only recoiled two feet in the gun. There must have been some good hoses to keep from spilling the oil when it recoiled. The barrel was set at 0°, we drove up against a tree that was 24 inches in diameter and shot. We broke the tree off before it would recoil the gun.
One day we took a town and the Captain came around and told us to set up and guard the town. We would be pulling out the next morning. At midnight we got orders to pull out. One of the other tank drivers go ahold of some booze and drank way too much. He went down the road ahead of us, turned a sharp corner and rolled the tank on its side. The ditches were very shallow over there. We came from behind, hooked the cable on to his tank and rolled him back on his tracks. It never hurt a thing. That is one way to sober up a tank driver in a hurry. Sometimes we would guard a highway crossing or a bridge. One day we were guarding a highway on the low side of a hill crest. We were back from the road, behind some trees. We heard a German motorcycle coming up the road. We let him go on by since we knew he would be coming back in a little while. We dragged a good sized limb across the road, just below the brow of the hill. We heard him coming back (those German motorcycles turned over 1000 rpms). We could hear him a long way away. He came over the hill at about 40 mph. When he hit that log he and his motorcycle went flying through the air. We had a prisoner. He was a spotter and he was on his way to his headquarters to report our movements.
We would take a small village in France and set up for a couple of days outside of the town. In France every street corner had a bar. There would be a door to the bar from both streets. It didn’t take us long to figure out that only one bartender was on duty during the noon hour. Two of us would go down to the bar. One would go in one door and the other guy would go in the other door. One guy would order a drink and while the bartender was taking care of him, the other guy would walk behind the bar, and take a bottle of gin or cognac (or whatever he could get his hands on) off the shelf. The guy that was buying the drink would tell the bartender, ‘Hey, that guy is stealing a bottle from you.’ The bartender would run to the other end of the bar and try to catch the guy stealing the liquor. By that time he was out the door and gone. While he was chasing this guy, the other one would step around the other end of the bar and grab a bottle for himself. The guys would meet behind a building and have two free bottles of booze. It didn’t take the French long to have two bartenders on duty at all times.
From Nancy we went to Colmar. We were 60 miles west of the Rhine River and headed for Strasbourg. Our Captain came around one morning. ‘We will be at the Rhine River tonight.’ The little towns and one street with building on both sides. There were no cross streets. Part of the building was used as a house, while the other part was used as a barn for livestock, with hay in the second floor. We were headed for the Rhine with very little resistance. We came to a small town with one street and ran into a road block. They had put logs about six feet high with rocks in between from one side of the road to the other. No way could we get around. About then a German soldier stuck a bazooka out of a haymow window and hit our tank turret. I was the gunner, my ammunition man was killed and I got shrapnel in my head. The driver and assistant driver were not hurt. We jumped out and climbed up into a haymow and covered ourselves up with hay. One German soldier started up the ladder to see if anyone was up there. He got as far as getting his head just above the floor of the haymow. I think he was just as scared as we were. I was the only non-com up there. The next morning about 3:00 a.m. our P-38 fighter bombers strafed the town and the bullets hit our roof. That was a racket when the bullets hit the clay roof! (Over there all the buildings were covered with clay shingles.) We decided it was time to get out. It was pitch dark and all six of us went down from the haymow and stood flat against the building. There were little ditches on both sides of the road. The Germans had machine guns zeroed on both ditches. Common sense said to go through the ditches if you are trying to escape. I told the boys to go through the ditch as fast as they could and lay flat on the road. As we laid on the road they strafed the ditches. After about five minutes we went through the other ditch into an open field. We made it to the long hill. About two-thirds of the way up the hill the Germans shot up a flare on a parachute. It lit up the field like it was noon. We went over the top of that hill in a hurry. I knew about where our headquarters were, so I told the five men to hide in the grass. I went ahead (pitch dark) hunting for our front lines. While in combat we always had a password. It changed every day. For example, Mae West. The guard would say halt and then he would say, Mae. You had to say West. There was no way I would know the password because we had not had any communication with headquarters for 24 hours. I was headed back to headquarters when all at once a guard said halt and gave his part of the password. I did not know the other half. He pulled the bolt back in the rifle and aimed it at my head. I put my arms over my head to be recognized. I gave him my name, rank and serial number. He took me back to headquarters and patched up my head. Then the Colonel and I went back to find the other men. Boy, was that a job. Because it had been dark and in unfamiliar territory, I couldn’t find my men. After it was getting light we finally found them. We went back to headquarters and go regrouped and got new tanks. When a bazooka shell goes through a tank turret it acts like an electric drill drilling iron. All the little pieces of iron are like sharp shrapnel going round and round inside the tank turret. That is how the shrapnel lodged in my head. To this day, part of the shrapnel is still in my head.
In 1944 we got a heavy snow, so we painted our tanks white. It was very cold. My feet were always cold. One morning I had no feeling in my feet at all. Just that quick I worried about my feet freezing. I got out of the tank, took my shoes and socks off and ran around in the snow to get the circulation back in my feet. We hauled our duffel bags on the back of our tank, got two pair of clean socks along with my shoe pack and I was okay. I heard that a friend of mine from Waverly lost both feet because they froze.
During the first part of the war the POWs were sent back to the United States. Now they were put in camps behind the lines and our MPs guarded them.
At night we would have our Quartermaster bring up our supplies (gas, ammunition, and ‘K rations). All the gas was brought up in five gallon cans, in 6×6 trucks. It would usually take us four hours to get supplies taken care of for the next day. By then it was around midnight. There were five of us in a tank, each man pulled one hour of guard duty. If you got the first or last shift, that was nice. Those three middle hours were bad. You sleep one hour, get up to pull guard for an hour and then try to get back to sleep for an hour. If we were in a town, we would try to get inside of a building to sleep. Otherwise we slept beside the tank. One night a tank crew slept under a tank because it was raining so hard. During the night the ground gave away and crushed all the personnel. That was why we were told never to sleep under the tank. Our tank weighed 35 tons and top speed was 35 mph.
A couple of days later we crossed the Rhine River at Strasbourg with our new tanks. From Strasbourg we went to Stuttgart. I don’t remember just where, one time a German anti-tank gun knocked one of the tracks off our tank. The tanks behind us kept going and drove the Germans back. We walked back to headquarters to get another tank. Our tanks had 21″ thick steel around the bottom of the tank. The turret was 12″ thick of steel. The best way to knock a tank out was to knock the tracks off, hit it between the turret and the tank chassis, or at close range shoot a bazooka through the turret. My biggest fear was to have to go back to combat after our tank was knocked out. When you are in battle though, you are too scared to be scared.
All this time I was with the 7th Army under General Clark. Between Stuttgard and Nurnberg we were attached to the 3rd Army under General Patton. Company B of the 23rd Tank Battalion of the 12th Armored Division (my company) was called by Patton to run a flank. This was the Battle of the Bulge. All night long on the right flank (10 miles) we took three tanks and ran back and forth. The tanks were about a mile apart, up and back, up and back on the ten mile run. The Germans thought Patton was bringing a lot of reinforcements. The next day we took the town without a shot. I met General Patton on that maneuver, even got to shake his hand. I think he was the greatest General that ever lived. He took more territory with less lives lost than any other General.
One day we took a town and set up guard for the evening. It had been a busy day. I had one round of 90mm ammunition left and one box of 50 caliber machine gun ammunition. It was a cloudy gray night. I looked east of town and saw a German troop train bring in reinforcements. I grabbed the radio and called headquarters. ‘Send the fighter planes to strafe the troop trains.’ They called back and said it was too cloudy so they didn’t come. That was another night I didn’t sleep. I don’t know what happened, but the next morning when we advanced there was little resistance.
Of all the battles I was in there was only one where everything went perfect. First the bombers bombed and strafed the town. Then the long artillery (long toms) had a rolling barrage. Then the howitzers shelled the town and then we came in with the tanks with the infantry men walking in between the tanks.
From Numberg [sic], we drove to the Danube River. Every day we would take hundreds of prisoners. They knew the war was about over, so they gave up and walked down the road to our headquarters. We just kept going and sent them back to headquarters. We were the first to cross the beautiful Danube River. That was two days before the war was over.
After pulling guard duty for one hour in Austria, we were sleeping in a haymow. A sergeant came around about 4:00 a.m., woke me up with his toe and asked me if I wanted to go back to the States on furlough. I jumped up and told him if he was lying to me I would kill him. He said, ‘No, no, I mean it.’ I had never had a pass or furlough the entire time I was in the Army. He asked me how long it would take me to get ready. I said, ‘Let’s go!’ At 8:00 a.m. I boarded a 4 x 8 (a boxcar that carried 40 men and 8 horses) narrow track train. Four days later we pulled into Marseille, France. We had to wait for a ship back to the States. Two weeks I was in Marseille. When I went there I weighed about 165 pounds. When I left I weighed 195 pounds. We were served anything we wanted to eat, morning, noon, night and midnight. We had steak three times a day. We did no physical work. That is what you would call ‘hog fat’. We got on a Kaiser Special, a small boat built by Kaiser Motor Company for the Navy that held 310 soldiers and the ship’s crew. We were headed back to New York. The ship had a crack down the side, but it didn’t seem to bother the security of the ship. I can remember when one of our men walked onto the ship. He got sea sick just from the wave of the boat in the harbor. After we were out about a week he just wanted to die. The food on the ship was good because it was American food!
Three weeks later, up the Hudson River, we could see the Stature of Liberty and then we were on American soil. No band or anything greeted us. We were run into a big warehouse, stripped down naked into another warehouse and issued all new Army clothes. I had a German Lugar [sic] and an Italian P-38 pistol when I arrived. They disappeared and somebody in the U.S. has my guns. From New York we went to Jefferson Barracks on a train. A person had to have 80 points to get out of the Army. I had 180. I was honorably discharged on the spot. I went up to St. Louis on a train and stayed there two nights. I saw the Cardinals and Pittsburgh play at Old Sportsman Park. The next night I saw the Cardinals and Cubs play. A young 18-year old red headed boy played left field for the Cardinals that night. That was the first gave that Red Schoendienst played in. He turned out to be a great second baseman for the Cardinals.
I went from St. Louis to Waterloo on a train and stayed overnight at the President Hotel. From Waterloo the next day I rode to Waverly on the Inner Urban. I arrived home on my Mother’s birthday, June 10, 1945. I had been away from home for two years, eleven months and seven days.
Gordon W. Foster, My Childhood and WWII Memories (Waverly, IA: 2006).
Addendum to My Childhood and WWII Memories by Gordon W. Foster
Gordon W. Foster
309 Park 26th Avenue NW
Waverly, Iowa 50677
I was born four miles north of Waverly, Iowa in 1920. Children were born at home, not in hospitals.
We started school at five years of age. There was no such thing as kindergarten or pre-school, just grades one through eight. We walked to school one and one half miles through the field. I never remember our folks driving us to school. By driving, I mean horse & wagon. We went to school from 8:00 to 4:00 five days a week. I never heard of a snow day or early out for teacher conferences. One year, we had 32 students and one teacher in a one-room schoolhouse. Our courses were reading, writing, arithmetic, hygiene and geography. To this day, we know what 8×7 is without a computer or a calculator.
We children started milking cows when we were six years old. One cow for each of us, and then we added more as we got older. A stated fact: all women could milk seven cows an hour while boys and men could only milk six cows and hour. You know why? Because their hands were smaller and more flexible.
Our ‘outhouse’ was a three seater– two large holes and one small hole. It was a cold old place in the winter. Ours always had a Sears Catalogue [sic] instead of toilet paper. The colored pages were rougher than the black & white pages! We never went to a doctor when we were sick. A tablespoon of castor oil was the solution. We would hold our nose shut and suck on a lemon when taking it. When naughty, we got a spoon of castor oil and were not allowed to hold our nose, and we did not get a lemon. When we had a chest cold, mother would make a mustard plaster. A mustard plaster is made up of mustard seeds, flour, water and an egg white. Make a paste and put it in a sock. Then tie it on your chest overnight. It was very hot. It cured all of our colds.
We had no electricity, a lantern in the barn to see to milk the cows, and one lamp in each room in the house. Every day, these lamps had to be filled with kerosene, the wicks trimmed and the chimneys washed.
Our telephone hung high on the wall, so the children could not reach it. Ours was a party line with eight families. When the call was for us, our ring was two short rings. And everyone knew everyone else’s business. Saturday night was bath night. All the water was carried in from the windmill and put in the boiler on the wood stove until the water was hot enough. Then it was poured into the washtub in the middle of the kitchen floor. We took a bath every Saturday night, once a week, whether we needed it or not. In the summer, we three boys walked down to the Cedar River and went swimming. That is how we learned to swim. One day, Dad was thrashing, and we went to Yell City, north of Waverly. Years ago a man and his wife owned a sawmill. People could hear them yelling at each other. That is how come it was called Yell City. We three boys went to Yell City; the water was 10 feet deep in the river. We jumped into the rive and all swam out. We made it. It was either swim or die.
We three boys got into a lot of trouble (we were 13 months apart). A stock tank was where the horses and cows drank. One day, we took a rooster, held him in the stock tank until the bubbles came. By our surprise, our mother came up behind us and threw us in the tank until the bubbles came up. She lined us up south of the barn with the wet rooster until we all dried out from 10:00 to 2:00. No dinner that day. We learned a lesson. On those days, our windmill pumped water in the stock tank and the house.
The three boys always had a pet. One year, we had a possum; one year a coon. But the best pets we had were crows. Our mother always hung the clothes on the clothesline from the washing machine. Our special crow would fly upon the clothesline and pull the clothespins off. Mother was so angry, that crow didn’t live too long after that. One year, we caught a badger, put him in a steel tank with the cover on. The next morning he was gone. We found out how strong they are!
Our dad went to town once a week to get groceries. He never had money. He would take on 30 dozen-egg cases full of eggs and trade them in for groceries, mostly flour and essentials for cooking for a family of nine. Most of our food came from the garden and butchering hogs, chickens, geese and beef. Mother had a unique way of preserving this food, no freezers or refrigerators or icebox. Every winter, Dad would cut only one hickory tree out of our timber, and that wood was used for the smoke house where we would smoke a lot of meat. We heated our house with a wood stove in the kitchen and a round oak heater in the living room.
We had no refrigerator. All the meat was canned or pickled, put in huge crocks and stored in the cellar. In those days all the food was cooked on a wood stove in spiders (cast iron). Now they call them fry pans.
We had a cistern pump by the sink in the kitchen where we washed our hands when we came in to eat. The water from the cistern pump came from a large brick room in the basement under the kitchen floor. The water came from the eaves troughs on the roof of the house and went into the cistern. Then you had to pump the handle to get water. By the side of the sink was a roller towel where we dried out hands. The roller towel was two 2×4’s attached to the wall, the 2x4s had two notches in them and the roller sat in those notches. The towel attached to the roller. It was one continuous towel.
Here is some good advice when you are my age (93 yrs): Forget the past, don’t worry about the future; enjoy the present.
Gordon W. Foster, Addendum to My Childhood and WWII Memories (Waverly, IA).
Sitting across the table, I am immediately reminded of why World War II veterans are considered part of America’s greatest generation. The humble yet surprisingly forthcoming man that sits before me exudes the very definitions of honor, courage and commitment as he begins to honor us with his stories. All conversations stop and he commands the room with both wisdom and wit.
Gordon Foster came into this world on Nov. 23. 1920 at a small farm house northeast of Waverly. As was common at the time, Gordon’s family was large and poor. As soon as he could walk, he was put to work on his parents’ small farm which was managed, almost entirely, to feed the family. The hard work and mischievous nature that he’d learn would, unbeknownst to him at the time, serve him well when his country would call on him to defend its borders and his American way of life.
Gordon was inducted into the United States Army on July 3, 1942 at the age of 21. Within two weeks, he travelled [sp.] via train to Jefferson Barracks, Mo., for a brief military indoctrination and then to Fort Eustis, Va., where he received the bulk of his basic military training. Generally speaking, training was easy for Gordon since he’d been exposed to the grueling farming practices of the early 20th century and learned how to take orders well.
After his initial training, Gordon spent the next wo [sp.] months hopping around the northeastern United States until reaching New York City, his embarkation point of departure. On Sept. 27, 1942, he stepped aboard the Queen Mary and was thrust into war, passenger ship or not. Three days after leaving New York, the Queen Mary dodged its first torpedo on a journey that would last until Oct. 4. It was also during this voyage that Gordon experienced his first military encounter with death. A day out from Londonderry, Ireland, a British destroyer arrived to escort the Queen Mary to her destination. The destroyer circled the Queen Mary to ensure she was free of German U-boats. However, the destroyer’s captain misjudged the speed of the Queen Mary and cut in front of her path. The Queen Mary, unable to reduce her speed, cut through the destroyer lit it wasn’t even there. Gordon was on deck at the time and had the unfortunate opportunity of witnessing the events as they unfolded. “One half of the destroyer went on one side and the other half went on the other side,” he recalled. “I happened to be standing by the raining and saw the one half go by my side. No one on the destroyer survived. There was so much turbulence behind the Queen Mary that it sucked both halves of the destroyer into the ocean before anyone could come out and rescue them.” Ninety three days in the service and Gordy realized he was at war.
In Ireland, Gordy was stationed with the 209th Anti-Aircraft Battalion under General Clark
to protect our allies, the Irish, from German bombing raids. It wasn’t long however, until his unit joined a naval convoy headed toward Oran, Africa. Upon arrival, Gordon’s unit immediately engaged the French army until, after approximately three days, the French joined the allies. Once the fighting ceased, he was sent to Casablanca and pulled guard duty for The Casablanca Conference that took place from Jan. 14-24. He was luck to have briefly seen the three dignitaries of the conference, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin.
Gordy’s unit was ordered to the famed Kasserine Pass to lie in wait for Gen. Rommel. He states, “After Rommel was turned back, we went through Constantine, Algeria as far as Berzerka, then back and guarded the port of Algiers.” It was also in Algiers where Gordy would take his only R&R for the entirety of the war; a two-hour swim in the Mediterranean Sea.
Four months would go by before the 209th would jump back on ship and head toward Salerno, Italy and Naples but were stopped by German forces on the outskirts of Naples. Mind you, Gordon experienced heavy combat throughout Italy, but he would soon have some of the most brutal fighting left at the Anzio Beachhead. The Battle of Anzio, Jan. 22 – June 5, 1944 should have been a quick victory for the allies but Maj. Gen. Lucas decided to wair for reinforcements rather than monopolize on the element of surprise that American forces already had. Instead, the battle went on for months with much of the fighting occurring directly on the beach, leaving our troops severely exposed. Gordon’s luck would only partially hold out though, and when a German artillery shell hit a nearby ammo dump, the resulting flames and explosions would reach Gordon’s fox hole, leaving him badly burned. After finally breaking through the German defenses, the Allies quickly made their way to Rome. Final tallies for the Battle of Anzio would include 7,000 killed in action and another 36,000 wounded, Gordon being but one.
After Rome and Civitavecchia, the 209th headed for Toulon, France. By August of ’44, however, most of the German Air Force had been decimated and Gordy’s unit was disbanded. He was quickly picked up by the infantry but just as quickly transferred again to the 12th Armored Division, a tank division, and Gordy would be the newest tank gunman in Company B. On his first combat mission, the Division lost 110 allied tanks in less than two hours. Gordy’s new unit, green to combat, quickly learned that training in the United States was drastically different than combat on the front lines.
Gordon was now 60 miles west of the Rhine River in route to Strasbourg. The 12th Armored Division moved quickly through the French countryside but was stopped in one of the small towns that littered the map. The Germans had built a makeshift roadblock that a tank would not be able to disrupt. While waiting for an alternative route, a German soldier fired his bazooka at Gordon’s tank. It hit the turret and instantly killed Gordon’s ammunition man. Gordon suffered shrapnel injuries to his head, however, they did not appear to be life threatening. Gordon and his remaining men jumped out of the tank and hid into a haymow. Until the following day, Gordon and his tank crew would be on their own and have to make their way back to friendly lines.
While the war was winding down, Gordon’s unit still had plenty of fighting to do. The Battle of the Bulge was just beginning and Gordy’s tank had quite a few near misses. His unit was now attached to Gen. Patton’s command and, regardless of the bad press Patton had received, Gordon considers him an effective leader that saved countless lives under his command. Gordon states that he even had the opportunity to shake Patton’s hand, to which he readily accepted. Toward the end of the war, the German army surrendered in droves. Pushing forward however, the U.S. Army just directed the prisoners down the road to their headquarters. They wanted to be the first to the Danube and didn’t have time to deal with unarmed, surrendering troops.
Two days later, the war was over.
Not long after Germany’s surrender, Gordy finally had an opportunity to go home. He was quickly shuffled to Marseille, France to wait for a ship back to the states. Two weeks would go by and Gordy would finally be heading home. On June 8, 1945, Gordy was honorably discharged from the United States Army.
Gordy, like most combat veterans, is cautious when discussing his combat experiences but, thanks to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, has opened up about his military experiences. In 2006, he wrote a small memoir for his family that describes his life and military experiences. These memories are golden since they’ve allowed Gordon to reflect on his life. As significant though, Gordon had the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. on the Sullivan-Hartogh-Davis Honor Flight Network. After he got out of the service, there was no fanfare or parades and the Honor Flight, or more specifically, the fanfare he received when he returned, have made a lasting impression on Gordon. Even now, he gets a little choke up when he thinks about it. His parting thoughts? “Forget the past, don’t worry about the future; enjoy the present.”
Neal Jarnagin, “The Battles of Gordon Foster’s Life,” Bremer County Independent, November 10, 2015, sec. C-1.
Gordon Foster celebrates 95 years
Happy 95th birthday Gordon Foster!
Gordon Foster will turn 95 on Monday, Nov. 23. Help him celebrate his birthday with a card shower. Cards can be sent to 309 Park 26th St. NW in Waverly.
“Gordon Foster celebrates 95 years,” Waverly Democrat, November 12, 2015.
WWII Veteran shares his story with 6th grade students
WAVERLY (KWWL) –
Sixth graders finding a new appreciation for veterans, thanks to one World War Two vets first hand account.
It is one thing to read about a war in a history book. It’s another to hear it from someone who lived the war for three years.
Gordon Foster grew up outside of Waverly and was drafter to the army in 1942.
He was a tank commander under General Patton, “The Greatest General that every lived,” said Foster.
“One night he came over to our division and says ‘I want a tank. I want to show them what to do.’ They picked my tank. I shook hands with General Patton. He got in our tank and road with us for 20 minutes, showed us what he wanted to do,” recalls Foster.
Following Patton’s instructions Foster’s tank and three others took a German city with out firing a single bullet.
“He was up there with a bazooka. He shot down through the top of the tank. There was very little steal there and that’s why today, I am carrying metal in my neck,” said Foster.
For the student’s, listening to Foster’s stories brought this history subject to life.
“I learned how hard it was to be in a war and to fight. It made me appreciate our freedom more,” said 6th grader Katherine Frantsen.
It’s lessons these students will be taking to D.C.
“When I look at the memorials, I am going to remember him and all the people who fought in wars,” said Fransten’s classmate Ella Lowe.
The class will be headed to DC in March.
Forster hopes his stories teach the youth just how much our veterans sacrifice to keep us free.
Gordon Foster has also written a short book on his time in the army.
Jessica Hartman, “WWII Veteran Shares His Story with 6th Grade Students,” KWWL, December 21, 2015, http://www.kwwl.com/story/30804259/2015/12/21/wwii-veteran-shares-hist-story-with-6th-grade-students.
Gordon W. Foster, 95, of Waverly, Iowa, died on Saturday, April 23, 2016 at the Waverly Health Center in Waverly.
Gordon was born on November 23, 1920, in rural Waverly, Bremer County, Iowa. He was the fourth child of Clarence and Mable (Rust) Foster. Gordon grew up on the family farm and attended country school at Grove #4, where he graduated from the 8th grade, helped his parents on the farm for one year, then attended Waverly High School, graduating in 1940. He helped his parents on the dairy farm until 1941 when he went to work at Zeidlers Concrete, making cement tile. He was drafted in June of 1941 and inducted on July 3, 1942. He served with the United States Army as a Fire Control Instrument Operator during the European Theater. Gordon served in Ireland, Africa, Italy, France, Germany and Austria, where he earned 180 points, only needing 80 to be discharged. Gordon received 5 Bronze Stars, 6 Campaign Ribbons, 5 Battle Stars and the Purple Heart Decoration. He was honorably discharged as Corporal on June 8, 1945. Gordon returned home and worked on the Ed Lindner farm for three years. On March 28 1947, he was united in marriage to Ruth E. Moeller at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Waverly. He was baptized and confirmed on May 25, 1947 at St. Paul’s in Waverly. To this union six children were born, David, Dianne, Bruce, Brian, Rebecca and Brenda. Gordon and Ruth bought their first 80 acre farm north of Waverly in 1949 and then 160 acre farm west of Bremer in 1961. In 1966, he started working at Carnation (now Nestles) retiring in 1986. In 1984, they moved to a home northeast of Waverly, until 2013 when they moved into Waverly.
Gordon was a longtime member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, where he served on church council and taught Sunday school when Rebecca was in fourth grade. Gordon stopped teaching Sunday school when his grandson Alex Gade was in fourth grade, following 30 years of service. He coached men’s fast pitch softball team, a little boy’s team ages 8-12 which included his children and grandchildren, a boy’s team from ages 12 -16, started girls softball “Junior Miss” in Waverly in the early 1970’s; however, softball was his specialty where he umpired for 50 years. After retirement he worked with wood, supplying fuel for the house and building crafts. In 2000, Gordon lost his eye sight in one eye and could not continue his umpiring and building crafts.
Gordon is survived by his loving wife of over 69 years, Ruth Foster of Waverly; his children, Dianne (Richard) Cheeseman of Waverly, Bruce (Elizabeth) Foster of Hudson, Massachusetts, Brian (Patricia Koch) Foster of New Ulm, Minnesota, Rebecca (David) Gade of Waverly and Brenda Foster of Waverly; 12 grandchildren, four great grandchildren; and a brother, Wesley (Marlys) Foster of Waverly; and a sister-in-law, Ruth Moeller of Waverly. He was preceded in death by his parents; his son and daughter-in-law, David (Sharron) Foster; three sisters, Madeline Pothast, Elinor Foster and Shirley Lindner; and two brothers, Duane and Merrill Foster.
Funeral services will be held on Tuesday, April 26, 2016 at 11:00 am at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Waverly with Pastors Joyce Sandberg and Larry Trachte officiating. Visitation will be held on Monday from 4:00 pm until 7:00 pm at Kaiser-Corson Funeral Home in Waverly and also an hour prior to the service on Tuesday at the church. Burial will be held at St. Paul’s Lutheran Cemetery in Waverly with Military Rites conducted by the Waverly Area Veterans Group. Memorials may be directed to Cedar Valley Hospice Waverly office or Champions Ridge Ball Park. Online condolences for Gordon’s family may be left at www.kaisercorson.com.
Kaiser-Corson Funeral Home in Waverly is assisting the family. 319-352-1187 – See more at: http://www.kaisercorson.com/obituary/Gordon-Willam-Foster/Waverly-IA/1611159#sthash.41FVBTqr.dpuf
“Gordon Foster Obituary,” Kaiser Corson Funeral Homes, Inc., accessed April , 2016. http://www.kaisercorson.com/obituary/Gordon-Willam-Foster/Waverly-IA/1611159.
Armed Forces Grave Registration
Release Date: April 23, 2079.