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Julius Cartwright Foster
Courtesy Vietnam Veterans
Memorial Fund

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


Julius Cartwright Foster

"To defend these people from the VC and the NVA is right and just. To give them the opportunity to form a democracy is worthwhile. Though our efforts are often clumsy, Americans are doing these two things. I want to be a part of this effort. I want to join those Americans who are daily sacrificing to achieve those aims."

Julius "Corky" Foster, personal notes, February 8, 1968

Born September 28, 1938, Julius Cartwright Foster ("Corky" as his friends and family called him) was the second child of Walter and Maxine Foster. His older brother was named for their father, but Julius was named after his maternal grandfather, Julius Cartwright, whom they lived with. Their home in the Welch area of Brown's Creek, McDowell County, West Virginia, was occupied by Corky, his brother Walter, his mother Maxine, his father Walter, his maternal grandparents Julius and Janet, and his great-grandfather George. Despite having such a large family, Foster was a unique individual known by many. Voted wittiest and senior class treasurer at Welch High School, he was funny, yet dependable, and popular among his peers. After graduating in 1956, he joined the Marines as a reservist to serve his country part-time. Later on, he decided to attend West Virginia University. Although he was active in campus groups such as student legislature and leadership conference steering committees, he found brotherhood in the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity. He was honorably discharged from the Marines in February of 1967, three months before getting his college degree, but he still felt that Americans weren't concerned enough about the efforts and sacrifices being made by American troops to help the Vietnamese people fight communism. No stranger to attention, Foster decided to do something to put the spotlight on the Vietnam War.

On August 27, 1967, he left on a month-long trek of more than 400 miles from Welch, West Virginia to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. More and more people paid attention to him as his journey went on. Although the newspaper, radio, and television groups shared interesting insights on his journey, the real gems can be found in his journal, where he wrote about his journey, the people he came across, and other interesting comments and observations. One of those entries that embodied the American culture at the time comes from September 12. He saw a young woman with her belongings all packed up, likely headed for school. He noted, "A kindred spirit, each seeking education & self-understanding but in the two ancient institutions, school and war."

After 31 days, Foster made it to Camp Lejeune. Because of his degree and leadership qualities, commanding officers urged him to become an officer. Instead, he stayed true to his ideals, re-enlisting and requesting immediate assignment to Vietnam. He wanted to be on the front lines, and that was what he got. He started his tour early that December as a rifleman in Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Amphibious Force. He continued writing about his experiences while in Vietnam. He left Phu Bai by January 16, 1968, when he was reassigned to Khe Sanh. The conflicts in this region had gradually been getting more intense, reaching a boiling point on January 21.

In the fall of 1967, American officials grew suspicious of the growing strength of the North Vietnamese in the region. General William C. Westmoreland, commander of the U.S. Military Assistance Command in Vietnam, believed Khe Sanh had been targeted. It became evident that this was true. On January 21, 1968, the American base's main storage of ammunition was hit by a North Vietnamese artillery bombardment. Foster noted that that it had "exploded most of the ammo, littering the runway with shrapnel." President Johnson and General Westmoreland believed the base at Khe Sanh should be held at all costs.

Lance Corporal Foster's leadership qualities were recognized once again, and he was assigned as a point man for his platoon. He enjoyed this position and felt a responsibility for the men he was with.

A blessing in disguise came when Foster had to leave his battalion to receive medical assistance for severe blisters at Da Nang. On February 18, 1968, his parents were able to talk to him on the phone for the last time. Four days later, on February 22, 1968, around 5:30 p.m., an NVA projectile landed in a narrow trench line killing Foster and five other Marines, and wounding nine.

Once just a kid from Welch, Corky became an American hero. His courage, selfless service, and dedication to American values were exemplary and are honored both at the start and end of his iconic trek. In Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, you will find four monuments within Monument Circle at the old Camp Geiger section of the base. The inscription on one reads: "Lance Corporal Julius C. Foster (1938-1968). Lance Corporal Foster, a member of Company E, 2d Battalion, 26th Marines, III Marine Amphibious Force, was killed on 22 February 1968 by hostile mortar fire during the battle for Khe Sanh, Quang Tri Province, Republic of Vietnam." There is also a road in the old section of the base named after him, Foster Boulevard. Both the monument and road were dedicated on May 26, 1969. His name is also inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Wall Panel 40E, Line 62, located in Washington, D.C.

In Foster's hometown of Welch, he was honored in a triple dedication ceremony on August 16, 2015, where the West Virginia Legislature had renamed a bridge over the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River, now called the USMC LCPL Julius C. Foster Memorial Bridge. They continued the ceremony at the nearby French Gratitude Park where a stone monument, as well as a flagpole, were dedicated to Corky, his life, his dedication to the Marine Corps, his country, and freedom of all people, regardless of nationality.

Article prepared by Sophia Romano and Ashleigh Hairston, George Washington High School JROTC
December 2018


Julius Cartwright Foster

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