Charles A. Foster, 82
Residence: Town of Tonawanda
Branch: Marine Corps
War zone: Korea
Years of service: 1951-54
Most prominent honors: Purple Heart, Korean Service Medal with three battle stars
By Lou Michel
News Staff Reporter
As a youngster during World War II, Charles A. Foster remembers helping his mother tend their vegetable “victory garden” in a field beside their Woodlawn Avenue home. At Public School 59 on Glenwood Avenue, he also bought war savings stamps that, when added up, were used to purchase war bonds.
Young Charlie knew well the sacrifices that Americans were making on the home front, and when he got the chance years later to serve in the Korean War after graduating from Williamsville High School, he didn’t hesitate to enlist in the Marine Corps.
Arriving on the Korean Peninsula at night in October 1951, Foster, now 82, recalls how he and other members of his weapons company waded ashore and, within a week of their arrival, began fighting one battle after another.
“We were on the front lines, and it never stopped, one hill to another hill. A lot of my buddies were killed or wounded,” Foster says.
At times, the enemy was so close that Foster could see the faces of the attackers, though he took care to prevent them from getting a look at his face.
“The enemy would have his lines, and we’d have our lines. Between us, it was no man’s land,” Foster recalls. “I’m not saying I was in hand-to-hand combat, but we were close. We tried to stay hidden because you didn’t want to get shot in the head.”
Progress on the hilly terrain was like a seesaw.
“We’d fight for one hill and win it, and then the next night we’d lose it,” Foster says. “It went back and forth.”
On the night of May 28, 1952, Foster says, his company received orders to climb to a hilltop and dig in for a battle expected to take place the next day.
“We were going to walk up to the top of the hill that we were told was unoccupied,” he says. “This was in the middle of night, and we couldn’t see ahead of us. It was pitch-black.”
A nasty surprise greeted Foster and his buddies: The enemy had already staked out the hilltop.
“There were a lot of grenades and machine-gun fire. They cut us to pieces,” Foster remembers. “We dragged our wounded buddies back down the hill along with our machine guns, which were pretty cumbersome. They’re in two pieces – the gun itself and the tripod – and each weighs about 50 pounds.”
Foster and his “best buddy,” Henry Gutierrez, were among the first wounded.
“Two grenades landed near me, and shrapnel hit me in the face, hands and my right arm,” Foster says. “Henry was closer to the grenades and was hit in the right leg. Big chunks of his leg were taken out. I helped him down the hill and put him in a helicopter. That was the last I saw of him for 10 years.”
Foster took up residence in a field hospital and recuperated the month of June before returning to his outfit July 4, 1952. He continued to fight until September, when his company returned to the United States.
“It was wonderful to get back home. We got a 30-day leave, and it was refreshing to say the least,” Foster says, adding that he completed his three years of service as a member of the Military Police stationed at a supply depot in Albany, Ga.
After being discharged in March 1954, he began life as a civilian in Buffalo working as a supply clerk in a factory before advancing to machinist and serving 47 years at R.P. Adams Co. in the Town of Tonawanda.
He and his wife, the former Betty Kessler, raised four children and have 16 grandchildren.
And throughout the decades, Foster has stayed in touch with his wartime buddy, Henry Gutierrez.
“Ten years after the war, I went down to Texas and visited him, and I call him every year on May 28, the date we were wounded. Our nickname for Henry was ‘Guts,’ ” Foster says, explaining that it’s a play on his last name, Gutierrez.
“When Henry answers the phone, I say, ‘Hey, Guts, how are you doing?’ He says, ‘Charlie, how are you doing?’ We talk about our children and grandchildren.”
Foster says it is a joy to simply hear his buddy’s voice.
“I think to myself, ‘My buddy is still breathing.’ ”