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Roy Lee Foster

"Hitler built a fortress around Europe, but he forgot to put a roof on it."

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Roy Lee Foster was born to Carrie and O. F. Foster of Ward 2 in Vernon Parish, Louisiana, on February 20, 1923. Carrie was originally from Mississippi, but O. F. was born in Louisiana. According to the 1930 U.S. Federal Census, the couple were the parents of three sons: John, who was 12 years old, and Roy Lee and Floyd Ray, twins who were 7. In 1930, O. F. was a painter of smokestacks.

In 1940, it appears the family was living apart. One of the twins was still living in Louisiana with Carrie. The home she's living in is owned by her (or her family), is a farm, and she shares it with a woman named Florence Muskgroves, who was a neighbor of the Foster family in 1930. They'd been in the same place since 1935, according to the "inferred residence" data on the 1940 census. It's not entirely possible to say which twin was living with Carrie at the time, as the census takers in both Louisiana and Tennessee seem to have recorded "Roy."

Which brings us to the fact that O. F. Foster, and his sons, John and the other twin, were found in Tennessee. The three were found in Memphis City of Shelby County, as was recorded by the 1940 census taker. They were lodgers on North 7th Street, among twelve lodgers, staying with J. O. and Mabel Stephens, and J. O.'s stepson, Laurence Webb, in their rooming house. Some of the lodgers had been there since 1935, but several were relatively recent dwellers from Louisiana. The lodgers' occupations were in steel working, sheet metal work, marine construction, auto construction, and laborer in a lumber mill. O. F. and John Foster were said to be steel workers. The Tennessee twin (Roy or Ray) worked with sheet metal.

Circumstantial evidence indicates it might well have been Roy who stayed behind in Louisiana with Carrie. U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946, note that he had four years of high school. It seems possible, but unlikely, that he would have attained this level of education at the tender age of 17 (at the time of the census). When he registered for the draft (1942), Roy indicated he was unemployed, as did the twin who was living with Carrie in 1940. On the other hand, the fact that both pursued similar occupations is a confounding piece of information. In 1940, the one living in Tennessee (presumably Ray) had been employed in sheet metal work for 44 weeks. But Roy's enlistment record shows that his civilian occupation was of "plumbers, gas fitters, and steam fitters." One thing we know with relative certainty is that Floyd Ray ultimately enlisted in the Navy, lived on until 1995, and was buried in Louisiana, according to Find A Grave memorial # 8447763.

The split of this southern family was not an uncommon situation. Long after the Foster family began their migration out of the South, a book called The Southern Diaspora: How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America by James N. Gregory (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005) would establish the context for the movement of millions of families out of the South for higher paying jobs in the West, Midwest, and Northeast. The Fosters were among approximately 20 million who moved out of the South between the years of 1900 and 1980.

In 1942, Roy Foster's whereabouts are found on a military registration card. His residence is given as Anacoco in Vernon Parish, Louisiana, and Mrs. O. F. Foster is the person who is listed as the "person who will always know your address." His address is given in the state of Louisiana, but the registration was completed at Local Board 5 in Memphis, Tennessee. Floyd Ray Foster also registered at the board in Memphis on the same day, but ultimately he would see his World War II service in the Navy, not the Army.

Roy Foster enlisted in the Army on February 8, 1943, at Shreveport, Louisiana, and would soon be in training at the Greenville Army Air Base in South Carolina. Greenville Army Air Base (renamed Donaldson Air Force Base during the Korean War; closed 1963) opened in 1942. During World War II, Greenville became a bomber training base. Among those units operating out of the base were the 342nd Army Air Force Base Unit, the 334th Bombardment Group, the 330th Army Air Force Base Unit (later the 128th Army Air Force Base Unit), the 56th Combat training Wing, the 90th Bombardment Unit, and the 310th Bombardment Group. ("Donaldson Air Force Base," Wikipedia, 21 June 2017, accessed 11 July 2017, Those who left Greenville went next to Europe to fly combat missions.

Enlisting as a private, Roy Foster had become a sergeant with the 470th Bomber Squadron. Just a year later, Roy Lee Foster died in Greenville, South Carolina, on February 12, 1944. He was among 19 killed when three bombers collided at the Greenville Army Air Base. The accident was described as follows in an AP news release:

Nineteen men were killed today when three planes of a bomb group collided and crashed at the Greenville Army Air Base.

The planes crashed at the weekly Saturday review. The planes, flying low in formation, touched wings and crashed just after they had passed over a bomber group on the field. They fell a quarter of a mile away, at the north end of the base.

Flames were seen before the craft stuck the ground.

All aboard all three planes were killed.

Observers said that 24 planes were in the air at the time in four groups of six.

Two planes rammed their wings together, observers said, and burst into flame, and both fell upon the third plane and bore it to the earth as it fell. ("Triple Bomber Collision Kills 19 Army Airmen," Fairmont Times, 13 February 1944.)

Among the names of victims released with the article was Sgt. Roy L. Foster, engineer-gunner, son of Mrs. Carrie Foster, Morgantown, West Virginia.

No record could be found that indicated when or how the Fosters arrived in Morgantown in the few years that intervened between their living apart in Louisiana and Tennessee in 1940 and 1944, when it seems they were joined together again in Morgantown, but Sgt. Foster's headstone, delivered to O. F. Foster, stands today in East Oak Grove Cemetery in Morgantown, West Virginia. West Virginia Archives records indicate that Roy Lee Foster was awarded the Purple Heart.

Headstone for Sgt. Roy Lee Foster, East Oak Grove Cemetery, Morgantown. Now weathered, it reads, ironically: Roy Lee Foster/Louisiana/Sgt. 470 Bomb SQ AC/February 20, 1943/February 12, 1944. Courtesy Cynthia Mullens

Article prepared by Cynthia Mullens, with editorial assistance from Patricia Richards McClure
June 2017


Roy Lee Foster

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