DeKALB – Fred Foster said he has never thought of himself as famous.
Foster, a 103-year-old World War II veteran from DeKalb, will have his life story told in an upcoming book project.
Amanda Sanderson, a senior at Somonauk High School, interviewed Foster and will tell his WWII story as part of a project called “A BOOK by ME.”
Deb Bowen started “A BOOK by ME” in 2003. She describes the project as “books for kids by kids,” with many of the stories written after children interview adults. The project started with children interviewing Holocaust survivors and has expanded to include veterans and Civil Rights activists. More than 100 stories already have been published.
“The project is a way to bring history to life,” Bowen said. “School kids are learning great lessons by hearing true, inspiring stories told by other students. Some of the stories have been turned into moving theater.”
Bowen is an active member of the Rebecca Clarke Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Galesburg. In the spring, she spoke via Zoom about her books for the Gen. John Stark Chapter of DAR serving DeKalb County. After Bowen’s Zoom presentation, local DAR member Deb Davey found three local veterans’ stories to be told. Along with Foster, the other stories are about WWII veteran Bob Shumway and Edeltraut Ziegler Drake, who was a German child during WWII .
Stories are grouped into sets of 10 and are compiled into books. The books are used in classrooms and can be borrowed from libraries.
Sanderson’s writing is scheduled to be completed by Thanksgiving and she also will illustrate the story with a friend.
“Writing a book is something I never thought I’d do,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in history and wars, and through the interview, I was able to learn about history from firsthand, personal experiences.”
Foster said that he is happy to have his WWII experiences told.
“I had good and some not-so-good experiences during the war,” he said. “Telling my story is important. The people of America, young women and men, should understand what the former civilization went through to maintain our independence and freedom as a country. They should know all that we’ve done to allow democracy in America and keep it for future generations.”
Fred Foster’s story
Fred Foster was born in 1918 in Aurora.
According to a biography written by Deb Bowen, Foster’s father and grandfather worked for the railroad moving dirt with scrapers and horses. Foster’s cousin Floyd, who was a few years older, moved in with his family when his mother died. The two boys were like brothers for the rest of their lives. Fred was out of school and remembers being at work when he learned about the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor.
In 1944, when Foster was 26 years old, and married with a young son, he enlisted in the U.S. Army.
“My brother-in-law was in the service, my cousin, and so many others, and I wanted to be there, so I enlisted,” Foster said.
En route to Europe, Foster’s ship was among a fleet of many other ships, he said. A British ship carrying aircraft from the United States was in the water beside them. One morning, when Foster awoke, the ship was gone, he said. He doesn’t know how it sank, but he said he suspects it was attacked during the night by a German submarine.
Foster said he was a part of the 107th Field Artillery Regiment, where he put some of his college education of mathematics and manufacturing engineering to real-life, hands-on use. His job in the artillery regiment was to use information sent to him by a forward observer to calculate the firing data for the guns. The process consisted of determining the precise target location based on the observer’s location, if needed, then computing range and direction to the target from the location of the guns. This data was computed manually using special protractors and slide rules.
While overseas, Foster said, he participated in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium, which lasted six weeks from Dec. 16, 1944, to Jan. 25, 1945.
His favorite memory of the war was playing poker with four different currencies on the table: German marks, French francs, Italian lira and American dollars. Sanderson asked if he won, and Foster chuckled and replied “Yes.”
“Personally, I never had any contact with the enemy being in the field artillery, they were a mile or so away,” Foster said. “I chose the field artillery when I joined because it’s at the back of the line, not the front. I thought I’d have a better chance of coming home.”
During the war, Foster wrote letters back and forth with his wife and young son. Upon returning home, he had two more children. He worked for the Barber Greene Corp. for 43 years and was one of three men behind the decision of choosing DeKalb for the company’s plant.
“I came to DeKalb with my family, built a home and never left,” he said. “It was a great area to settle down, with the university nearby.”
Foster’s son, Keith Foster, said he has “always been proud of my dad’s service to this country and that is something he has always been proud of as well.”
“I grew up during the Vietnam War and the draft was a big deal during those times,” he said. “I always marveled at my father telling me he voluntarily joined the military to fight the enemies of our country at that time, and he told me pretty much everyone he knew was enlisting for the same reason.”
When Keith Foster first approached his father about doing an interview about his WWII experiences, Fred Foster emphatically said no.
Keith said he talked his dad into doing the interview with Amanda Sanderson.
“My father has always been careful about how much of his war experience he wanted to share even with his family,” Keith Foster said. “He said things happened that he has tried to forget and he did not want to accidentally share things he felt should remain secret.”
Keith was able to persuade his father into conducting the interview.
“I’m glad I did because even I learned some things about his experience that I’m glad I know.”
One example of a story Keith had never heard before was of his father being in an abandoned house for a night during The Battle of the Bulge, with German planes overhead.
“He saw a little ant crawl down a crack in the floorboards of the house,” Keith Foster said. “He remembered thinking at the time, ‘I wish I was an ant.’ I think we all have times when we would rather crawl into a hole rather than facing the uncertainty that tomorrow will surely bring.”
Deb Bowen said Foster’s story of the ant also stuck out to her.
“Ants are able to carry loads, burdens, they shouldn’t be able to on their backs,” she said. “Sometimes, we all feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders. But for the young soldiers during WWII, the weight of the world truly was on their shoulders. I remember [Foster] saying, ‘I was one bullet away from death, and I dodged the bullet.’”
Sanderson said that by conducting the interview with Foster, she has “a deeper understanding of history and more appreciation for veterans.”
“Both of my parents were in the military, but since the interview, I learned so much about World War II,” she said. “I learned about the Holocaust in school, but it’s different learning about life during the war and life after the war.”
Sanderson said she was struck by how Foster seemed to remain so positive.
“He showed me that not everything or everyone in the world is bad and not to be too hard on yourself,” she said. “He’s 103, was in World War II and he’s the sweetest man ever. He’s been through so much, and he probably doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. His story deserves to be told, so others can learn about his experiences and learn about him and his life.”