James B. Foster

Decorated Career Army Officer Was A World War Ii Veteran Who Survived The Battle Of Chosin Reservoir In Korea

July 23, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

James B. Foster, a decorated career Army officer who fought in World War II and Korea, where he survived the storied Battle of Chosin Reservoir, died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at his Oxford home. He was 90.

Colonel Foster was born in Baltimore and was raised in Forest Park and Walbrook.

After graduating from City College in 1937, he enrolled at the University of Michigan, where he earned a bachelor's degree in marine engineering in 1941. He was then commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army Corps of Engineers.

His wife of 27 years, the former Jeanne Kelly, said Colonel Foster liked telling the story that his arrival in North Africa in 1943 coincided with the defeat of Axis forces under the command of Gen. Erwin Rommel, who was known as the "Desert Fox."

FOR THE RECORD - An obituary published in yesterday's editions of The Baltimore Sun for Col. James B. Foster Jr. incorrectly stated his high school. He was a 1937 graduate of Polytechnic Institute. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

Colonel Foster later participated in the Italian campaign, and at the end of World War II, he was assigned as a Reserve Officers Training Corps instructor at Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College - now Oklahoma State University - in Stillwater.

He later attended and graduated from the Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and in 1950 was assigned to the Army X Corps in Korea.

In late November 1950, the X Corps and the 1st Marine Division, under the overall command of Army Maj. Gen. Ned Almond, were badly outnumbered by the thousands of Chinese troops who crossed the Yalu River, surrounding the Americans at Chosin Reservoir in rugged northeastern North Korea.

The ensuing 17-day battle, fought in brutal winter weather, killed some 35,000 Chinese troops and caused the evacuation of United Nations forces from North Korea.

"He had gone to Chosin Reservoir to build a headquarters building for the Army when the Chinese attacked," said Mrs. Foster. "When the battle was finally over and they had gotten to a ship, he took off the clothes that he had worn for weeks and burned them."

"I remember Dad saying it was the coldest he had been in his life," said his son, Lt. Col. James B. Foster III of Oxford, who recently retired from the Army.

After Korea, Colonel Foster was assigned as commander of the 8017th Engineer Aviation Battalion, a heavy construction battalion, in England.

He returned to Korea in 1958, where he served with the Korean Military Advisory Group for three years until retiring in 1961.

His decorations included the Bronze Star, United Nations Service Medal, Korea Defense Service Medal and Korean Service Medal.

After retiring from the Army, he worked for a decade as a civil engineer for the Ohio Department of Highways; in 1971, he moved to Oxford.

Colonel Foster worked for several years as office manager of the historic Robert Morris Inn in Oxford until retiring in 1982.

He was an avid sailor and enjoyed sailing his 18-foot sailboat, the Guillaime, in the Chesapeake Bay and Eastern Shore rivers.

He was a member of the Tred Avon Yacht Club and the Oxford Sailing Association. He was also a member of the Retired Officers Association.

His wife of 32 years, the former Elizabeth Henshaw, died in 1980.

Colonel Foster was a communicant and former vestryman of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, South Morris and Caroline streets in Oxford, where services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday.

Also surviving are a daughter, Harriet Foster Long of Washington; and two grandchildren.

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