Days of infamy relived by veteran
VETERAN On the porch of his home in Meridian, Oliver Q. Foster Jr. reflects on the aftermath of war as he goes through his collection of caps representing veterans organizations. Photo by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star
By Steve Gillespie/The Meridian Star
Dec. 7, 2001
Sixty years ago today, Oliver Q. Foster Jr., was a 16-year-old in Greenville getting ready to go to the movies when he heard of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Within a year of what President Franklin Roosevelt forever consecrated as a "day of infamy," Foster was on the front lines of the attack which helped push America into World War II, a seaman in the U.S. Navy working to remove the remains of sailors from their destroyed ships.
Realizing the attack meant war, Foster made plans to enlist in the military to defend his country. But it was a movie produced in the new year that deepened his conviction.
The technicolor film was produced and quickly released after the Pearl Harbor attack. The movie starred Hollywood veteran John Payne as a Marine recruit, Randolph Scott as his drill sergeant and Maureen O'Hara as the love interest, all with a time-line fast approaching Dec. 7, 1941.
Foster said it was the movie that motivated him most to serve. "The training it showed that John Payne was going through and the uniforms the dress blues," he mused.
After turning 17, Foster tried to join the Marines, but was turned down because he is African-American.
The Navy, however, welcomed the new recruit, who enlisted on Aug. 4, foregoing his formal education for military duty.
Raising the ships
His ship was one from which Foster helped salvage items.
Foster said the remains of sailors he saw were no more than bones by that time, collected in small boxes and buried amid the fertile green landscapes of the Hawaiian hills.
Foster left Pearl Harbor, where he saw "To The Shores of Tripoli" for the second time, and served as a cook throughout the rest of the war on ships in the Pacific.
He has seen other wars come and go. After his discharge in 1946, he was in the Naval Reserves and was called back to active duty during the Korean War, serving from 1950 to 1952.
Foster stayed in the Reserves until 1965, retiring as a steward. He earned his GED in 1967.
Today, Foster is a Disabled American Veteran, after a debilitating stroke in 1998 that confined him in a wheelchair.
He lives in Meridian with his wife, Evelyn, on 16th Avenue across from Velma Young Park, where he likes to sit on the porch and watch children play.
Foster sees some similarities between Dec. 7, 1941 and Sept. 11, 2001.
He also sees the nation as a unified country one people now as it was after Pearl Harbor, but he doesn't expect it to last.
Foster's son by a previous marriage, Frank Foster, enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at the age of 18, just a few days after his father's birthday in the summer of 1966. That was the last time Foster remembers seeing "To The Shores of Tripoli," catching it on TV. The movie still means a lot to him.
He is proud of his son and somewhere in his house he has a photograph a friend took of Frank's name on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.
Frank was killed in action during a sweep of the Quang Tri Province in Vietnam during Operation Kingfisher on Oct. 14, 1967.
For Oliver Foster, it's another day that lives in infamy.
Steve Gillespie is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3233, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.