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Richard E. Foster oral history interview, February 5, 1994

Date: Feb. 05 1994 | Identifier: OH0142
Born in Piedmont, California, Captain Foster was the captain of the U.S. Naval Academy football team in 1940. He comments on his wartime assignments on the USS PENNSYLVANIA and the USS INDIANA; his postwar duty on the USS WRIGHT; and his years as a naval engineer involved in ship design, planning, and production. Of particular interest are commentaries on the flag-raising at Iwo Jima as witnessed from the deck of the USS VICKSBURG, the surrender of Japanese forces in Tokyo Bay, and the career-ending injuries sustained in a mid-air collision of commercial airliners in the skies over New York state. Interviewer: Donald R. Lennon. more...



EAST CAROLINA MANUSCRIPT COLLECTION
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW #142
Capt. Richard E. Foster
USNA Class of 1941
February 5, 1994
Interview #1

Donald R. Lennon:

Sit back and relax and kind of give me a general overview of where you were born, raised, and educated before going to the Academy, and then take it from there.

Richard E. Foster:

I was born in Oakland, California, in 1918. I attended Piedmont High School, which is located in Piedmont, a rather small and unusual community, in that it is surrounded by Oakland. It has a very fine school system, however. I graduated from there in 1936. My father had worked in the shipyards as a personnel manager during the First World War. He was always interested in his associations with Navy people. We used to frequently go out to the ships when they came in the San Francisco harbor. He is the one that really thought that I should go to the Naval Academy. So he worked on it through a next-door neighbor, who knew the congressman, and the congressman's son knew me. Anyway, I got an appointment to the Naval Academy. I didn't get an appointment the first year. Thus, I went to Drew Prep School in San Francisco for a year. Of course, this was during the Depression when things were tight anyway, so I went to the Naval Academy with the Class of 1941. I graduated about ninety-nine in a class of four hundred. I was captain of the football team in



1940, which was a wonderful experience, of course, for somebody that had no reputation in football when he got there. I was a walk-on as it is called.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well, did you beat Army? That's what I want to know.

Richard E. Foster:

Yes. We beat Army twice.

I joined the USS PENNSYLVANIA after graduation in February as a junior officer and also as a player coach of the football team. At that time, all the varsity players were normally assigned to the Fleet ships that had football teams, which were the battleships and the big carriers. So most of our football players went to these ships. It so happened that when we got there, most of the ships had deployed to the Pacific and were operating out of Pearl Harbor. So the football season that normally took place in the Long Beach area became a thing of the past. The PENNSYLVANIA was the only ship that had a football team. I guess that was because we were a flagship and in port more often than the rest of the battleships. We had Admiral Kimmel on board, so we used to come in on the weekends when many of the others were out operating. I mention this because on Pearl Harbor Day, the football team was supposed to practice. Of course, that was interrupted. But after I got topside in the afternoon, I recognized that a lot of the sailors that were on the team were still in their football uniforms, manning the guns. The only thing they exchanged was their football helmets for their naval helmets. That ended our football season.

I was a junior officer in the machinery division. I chose to go into engineering. Gray Strum, whom you know, was one of the officers in the PENNSYLVANIA and he picked communications. I wanted to get into engineering because my eyes were a little low. Although I got a regular commission, it was predicated on my having a physical exam after two years in the Fleet to determine whether I'd stay in the line or go in the staff corps, which



at that time was the supply corps. I didn't want to go into the supply corps, so I figured I'd go into engineering. If I had to get out of the Navy, at least I would have a degree in engineering and some practical experience. It so happened that after two years, they hadn't forgotten and consequently gave me orders to go have a physical exam. At this time my eyes had gotten worse. I read six- and eight-twenty. However, this was in 1943. They came back and said, "You're fully qualified for all duties of a regular line officer." I guess they were taking anybody then. So I lucked out and was able to stay in the line, but I also decided to stay in the engineering field if I could.

I later became the E Division officer, electrical officer. I was in the PENNSYLVANIA during the attack on Pearl Harbor and stayed in the ship until about mid-1943. This was right after the Attu operation, in which we took part. I was ordered then to Post-Graduate School in engineering design at Annapolis, which was a shortened course. Normally, it would have taken three years, but they shortened the course and eliminated about a year and a half of the normal university transfer courses. We just stayed at the Post-Graduate School.

I was then ordered to the USS INDIANA as assistant engineer. Before I joined the ship, I was transferred to the brand new cruiser, the Vicksburg, as a passenger. It was going from Pearl on out to the Pacific, so I could join my ship out there.

Donald R. Lennon:

When was this now?

Richard E. Foster:

This was early 1945.

Donald R. Lennon:

Early 1945.

Richard E. Foster:

As the cruiser had a new crew, I volunteered my services. They said, "No, we've got a full crew. We've got to train them. You just be a passenger and we'll deliver you to the



INDIANA." Well, instead of going directly to Ulithi where we expected to pick up the INDIANA, they were shuttled into the Iwo Jima campaign to give them some firsthand experience at shore bombardment. I had nothing to do except view from topside what was going on during the Iwo Jima campaign. I just so happened to have my binoculars on Mount Suribachi-yama when they raised the flag.

Donald R. Lennon:

Unbelievable.

Richard E. Foster:

I noticed some satchel charges going off up there. Then all of a sudden, the flag came up. I wrote my wife about it and said it was the most inspiring thing I'd ever seen. Then of course they published the picture, the statue, and the whole thing; but that was really the only time I got topside to see anything. I was always down below in the engineering spaces.

Donald R. Lennon:

Does your wife still have the letter?

Richard E. Foster:

No. She didn't keep all these letters. I guess at some move, we threw them away. We've been moving so much. Then, I finished out the war in the INDIANA. We were with Halsey, Jocko Clark, and the rest of the task force during the turkey shoots and all of the operations leading up to the surrender. We went through one of the typhoons out there, just trying to maintain station with the carriers. A couple of the carriers had their flight deck bows crushed and bent up in one of the typhoons.

Donald R. Lennon:

Now was this in 1945?

Richard E. Foster:

1945.

Donald R. Lennon:

Because I believe there were some typhoons that caused damage the year before also. Weren't there several ships that had their boilers explode?

Richard E. Foster:

Yes. There were a couple of typhoons that ships went through. The one in 1945



was a real pistol. In the INDIANA, we were taking water right down into the engine rooms and the fire rooms. In fact, we were operating with maybe a couple of boilers on the line. We were changing the watch every five minutes because we had no ventilation. It was a pretty harrowing experience. It's amazing, as big as those ships are, that you can take water way up on the superstructure and into the boiler intakes in the quantity that we did. That did the main damage. As a result of the damaging typhoon, we made some modifications by putting in some considerably larger drains from the uptake spaces and leading these drains right down into the bilge area of the engine and fire rooms.

We went into Tokyo Bay at the end of the war for the surrender. We had a liberty party sent ashore, which I thought was somewhat foolish, but nobody asked me. I was only a lieutenant commander at the time. I did get to take a plane trip on one of our scout planes over Yokohama and Tokyo right after the surrender to see the devastation, which was horrendous.

I brought the INDIANA back to San Francisco. They ordered a new chief engineer to relieve our existing chief engineer, who had enough points to go home. It happened to be Commander Shultz who was the one that handed Roosevelt the news of Pearl Harbor. He was a communications expert and later became an admiral in the communications field. He was only aboard a very short time when the Pearl Harbor inquiry was taking place in Washington, so he was ordered back to testify. I fleeted up and became chief engineer. We were in San Francisco then with the Third Fleet. Our ship was to be a ready reserve ship, but that didn't last very long. They decided to put us out of commission and send us to Bremerton.

So I helped put the ship out of commission as chief engineer and was then ordered



in the fall of 1946 to the position of chief engineer of the USS WRIGHT, (CVL49). It was a cruiser being converted into an aircraft carrier at New York Ship Yard in Camden, New Jersey. We were commissioned in early 1947, came down to Pensacola, and operated out of Pensacola. We were qualifying pilots in carrier landings. Of course, this is still in the days of the propeller aircraft, so the ship was large enough to handle this mission. At that time, I had put in an application for EDO, which is engineering duty only.

Finally, my application was accepted and I became an engineering duty only specialist in the line and was ordered to the Bureau of Ships as my first shore duty. This was 1947. After four years in the Bureau of Ships in the interior communications and fire control branch, I was ordered to the U.S. Naval Mission in Brazil as the engineering member of the Naval Mission. At this time, I was a commander.

Donald R. Lennon:

That was about 1951?

Richard E. Foster:

That would be from 1951 to 1953. In 1953, I was ordered to Mare Island Naval Ship Yard, which was my first shipyard duty. I was at Mare Island for four years in both production and planning at various times. Then I was ordered back to Washington, D. C., to the David Taylor Model Basin in Carderock Springs, Maryland. I was in the industrial part of the Model Basin. They were making a number of changes in the facilities there, so I got involved with the new rotating arm and maneuvering basin being constructed at the Model Basin.

I had only been there for about a year when I was ordered back to the Bureau of Ships, which was about 1959. I was in machinery design and later became Administrative Assistant to the Chief of the Bureau of Ships. Then in 1962, I was ordered to San Diego as the ship maintenance officer on the staff of COMPHIBPAC, Amphibious Forces Pacific



Fleet, for two years. After that duty, I was ordered to Norfolk Naval Ship Yard as the production officer. While I was there, I headed up the shipyard negotiating team that negotiated the first contract with the Metal Trades Council. It was the first time we'd had a definitive labor/management agreement with the Metal Trades Council representing the shipyard workers.



On a temporary assignment, I was sent to Harvard Business School as one of the Navy students in the Advanced Management Program, which is a thirteen week program. All of the wives were supposed to come up for the last week of the business school for our session and hear the closing presentations by the various groups on the big project we were all working on. I was on my way down from Boston to Newark to pick up my wife, who was driving up from Portsmouth. That's when I got in a plane crash with Eastern Airlines and the TWA jet over Connecticut. That, for all intents and purposes, finished my Navy career.

Donald R. Lennon:

Now, what year was that?

Richard E. Foster:

December 1965.

I was the only passenger thrown out of the plane when it crashed. It apparently opened up right where my seat was, which was an emergency exit. I ended up, seat and all, outside the plane. The man I was traveling with, Dr. Wilkenson, was killed by a broken neck; but there were very few other fatalities. The pilot did a marvelous job of bringing the plane down in a field. The plane was on fire. The pilot got out, but he went back in to rescue somebody else and never got out of that mess. He did a marvelous job and later on they had quite a write up about it in Readers' Digest.

Donald R. Lennon:

Now, were you on the Eastern flight?

Richard E. Foster:

I was on the Eastern Constellation flight. The TWA jet landed at Kennedy. Part of its wing was damaged, but we had our tail surfaces damaged, so the pilot had a tough time bringing the plane in.

I ended up in the hospital there, down in Portsmouth, and then was ordered to Bethesda. For almost the next two years, I was in and out of the hospital. They were trying



to save my foot and so forth. Finally, I got a medical discharge from the Navy and went into business in Washington, D. C., with a company called Wheeler Industries. I worked for them for twelve years and then I retired to Annapolis.

Donald R. Lennon:

So what would be the date of your retirement from the Navy?

Richard E. Foster:

I retired in 1968.

Donald R. Lennon:

Then you went to Wheeler and worked for twelve years.

Richard E. Foster:

Yes, I worked for twelve years with Wheeler Industries as a project engineer. So, that's pretty much the whole career. I have no regrets, none at all. I enjoyed the association. It's a wonderful outfit. We were lucky to be where we were at the time. We've lost a lot of wonderful classmates, but the rest of us keep in touch and they are a wonderful bunch of guys.

I don't know of anything else I can add. I led a pretty routine kind of life, but every job was challenging. I worked with a fine bunch of civilians at various times. I have no regrets in any of the duties I had. They were all interesting in their way, although some were a little more difficult and hectic than others, but that is the way life is.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well it sounds like to me that you made a wise choice there when you had a chance to be able to have some flexibility to pick which direction you'd like your professional life to turn to. Let's see. I have a couple of things here. At the end of the war sailing into Tokyo Bay, that must have been an experience of a lifetime.

Richard E. Foster:

Oh yes, it was an experience to see all of the ships there and, of course, the end of the war. We weren't quite sure what was going to happen, particularly from my point of view, when they started putting a bunch of sailors and some Marines aboard. We had a lot of sailors and officers that had never been through any kind of a shore excursion like this.



To put them ashore in Yokosuka, I don't know if they realized what they were getting into. Apparently, they had no problems; but as a sailor you never knew at the time, because we just sailed in and next thing we knew, they were going ashore. Of course, they had more volunteers than they knew what to do with, including my good classmate, Ev Malcolm, who was in the ship. He was in the gunnery department, so he went ashore. Everyone came back with some Army swords and rifles, but Ev also came back with a great big General Electric clock. He had gotten the clock out of a tunnel in the Yokosuka Naval Base, rescued it, and brought it back. He was detached from the ship when we got back to Pearl Harbor, so I had that clock at the bottom of my bunk until I could deliver it to him in Bremerton after the war. We had some amusing incidents.

I have another classmate from post-graduate school, Stan Lang, who was an engineer in the MISSOURI when they took the pictures of the whole crew at the ceremony of the signing of the armistice. Stan Lang is in three pictures as they panned the cameras around. He was running around the back of the group, so he was one of the officers that you saw three times in the pictures.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well, let's turn back to life at the Academy. Anything from your experience there that you'd like to comment on? About the rigors of going through the Academy? What was everybody talking about? You went in at a time when the world was starting to be turned on its ear. As graduation approached, what was going through your mind?

Richard E. Foster:

Of course, we followed what was going on in the Atlantic very closely. The year before our first class year, our Navy was building up. Instead of having a cruise to Europe, which we normally would have had, they kept us in the western part of the Atlantic. So we had a cruise to Venezuela and San Juan. That was our midshipman cruise as senior first



classmen. So we knew things were heating up. Then, of course, they cut our term back so we could graduate in February instead of June.

I also had the experience of getting aboard the King George V, the new battleship that brought Lord Halifax over to Washington in late 1940 or early 1941. It was during the winter, I know that. Admiral, well, Commander Wright then, Gerald Wright, was our battalion officer. He took a number of us out to the ship to go through it so we could get a chance to see what the ship was like after crossing the Atlantic. It was the first time I'd had a drink on a Navy ship. We were down in the gunroom after the inspection with the junior officers. Of course, they were drinking whiskey and so forth, so we joined in. When we got back to the Academy later that night, the duty officer said, "Boys, you better go to your room."

Donald R. Lennon:

Uh oh.

Richard E. Foster:

Forget the lecture. That brought home to us that this ship had a rough trip over the Atlantic and the ship was dirty. The whole crew looked like they had been dragged through a knothole or a hawse pipe or something.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well, tell me what it was like to be an athlete at the Naval Academy. What kind of respect was the captain of the football team accorded, along with his teammates, by the rest of the class?

Richard E. Foster:

All of the varsity teams ate at training tables, so our food was a little different than perhaps the rest of the midshipman. Mainly, I guess, we ate at training tables because we were always getting there late. We didn't go to formations normally at night because we'd been practicing late and so forth. I don't know that the food was any different. It was a good experience. I found that getting exercise, concentrating on football--knowing that I



had to get my studies done--I really did better during the fall term each year because I wasn't goofing off all afternoon, as one might tend to do. My studies were pretty much concentrated every night during the study hour.

I thoroughly enjoyed the athletic experience. I had some great coaches. We've had a fiftieth reunion of the 1940 team at the Naval Academy. We had seventeen out of thirty that were still alive attend and some of these fellows I hadn't seen since we'd knocked heads together in 1940, so it was a good experience.

Donald R. Lennon:

You mentioned earlier some changes in the design of some of the ships to make them endure severe weather situations. Were there other things that you observed during the war, that you were able, as an engineer, to take back to your life after the war and incorporate to better the design of certain ships? It sounded to me like you spent most of your career looking at that very thing.

Richard E. Foster:

After the war, of course, we got into new designs for the propulsion systems, especially since submarines were coming along and we needed to have quiet systems. I got involved in a project with General Electric, when I was in machinery design, for a counter-rotating turbine, a propulsion system for submarines. Very few people, I think, outside the submarine service and submarine propulsion area remember or recognize that a counter-rotating steam turbine was installed in a submarine after the war. It was designed to go into an existing hull which restricted the size and made it a very difficult design project. However, it did operate very quietly, but there were many problems. Most of the problems had to do with steam leakage, packing of the bearings, and this sort of thing, but the ship did operate. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to ride in the ship because I was not in the ship business, when the ship was commissioned and operating.



Donald R. Lennon:

Do you recall the name of the boat?

Richard E. Foster:

Right now I can't. I should know it.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well, maybe it will come to you later on.

Richard E. Foster:

It was one of the more interesting designs that I have been associated with. The General Electric people were just excellent engineers, and I still hear from some of them now and then. They really were pushing the state of the art.

Donald R. Lennon:

During your time in the service, during wartime, did you have many occasions to see other classmates in your areas of operation? I realize you were in the PENNSYLVANIA and then you were in the INDIANA.

Richard E. Foster:

I didn't see too many classmates. There'd be a few in the ship or in Bremerton. After the war, there were a few classmates and friends in other ships that came in or were going through. There were about three or four of our classmates at post-graduate school at the same time and we all had very similar assignments; assistant engineer; later fleeting up to engineer officer on large ships; shipyard duty; and maintenance duty. So we did see each other at various times. Of course, when we got to Washington, there was always occasion to see lots of classmates and friends.

Donald R. Lennon:

That's the beehive.

Richard E. Foster:

I just mentioned Enders Huey. I've played golf with Enders since about 1949. We used to play golf at the Army-Navy Club in the middle of winter, all bundled up with gloves on. We'd work like hell during the week. Then on Saturday, we'd play golf. We used to have a grand old time. These are the kinds of memories you remember. That's the bottom line. There's nothing like the fraternity. I don't know of any group at any college that has more close-knit associations with their classmates than we have. Of course, it's



understandable. We went through the Naval Academy. We had the same experiences at sea and in the war. The Navy is a great, lovely institution anyway and I think we all are just grateful to have had that experience. I don't know of any college that has that. Some of them may have it, but their people spread out and their interests diverge, I think. However, we always have the same interest in the Navy. The Army is, I'm sure, the same way, as well as the Air Force.

I think that's about all I can add.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well, I appreciate your time.

Richard E. Foster:

Some people have had such great experiences, shipboard experiences and so forth, and been through many battles. You know, when you're an engineer, you're down below and if they're bombarding something, what you do is the same, no matter what happens. So on the INDIANA, I didn't know what was going on topside. I never got topside to find out. We had our own job and our own problems to worry about. I haven't been especially a devotee of Naval History. I haven't read a lot of it like a lot of people have, but to have some of our people shooting down planes, they've had some diverse experiences.

Donald R. Lennon:

Your training at the Academy was broad enough to qualify you for any number of venues. Wherever fate threw you or where you were transferred, you were ready. You were supposed to be ready to go in there and learn that particular aspect.

Richard E. Foster:

That's right. You have various duties and you just adapt to them. We always seem, no matter what duty we have, to work hard and play hard. It's kept life interesting. I had a wonderful marriage to a wife I met just before second class year. I was escorting a classmate of mine from high school, who was visiting the Naval Academy at the time. This was during June. She and I were meeting with another classmate of mine from high school,



who was also a classmate of mine at the Naval Academy. He was escorting my present wife. That's when we met. My classmate from high school that I was escorting was visiting her brother there in the Class of 1940. She later married a classmate of mine, John Dougherty. She and John are here. They are some of our best friends. We have played bridge with them for years. In fact, they're coming to visit us down in Florida. So that goes back, fifty to fifty-five years. I was best man at their wedding. So, that's the kind of thing we remember.

Donald R. Lennon:

Right, close-knit, lots of bonding.

Richard E. Foster:

So close with Jane Dougherty and myself, we've had a wonderful association together.

[End of Interview]

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