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Walter Edmund Foster

Military

Lt. Walt Foster was a navigator and bombardier from Upstate New York who served with the 456th BS during the Second World War. His first combat mission was flown from Earls Colne Airfield on February 3, 1944 to the Ruisseville "No Balls” secret weapon site in WT-U "Klassie Lassie" Serial No. 41-31810. He flew what appears to have been all but two combat missions with the Dorsey crew (Lt. Lawrence J. Dorsey-Pilot, Lt. George Hill-Co-Pilot, Lt. Walt Foster-Navigator/Bombardier, S/Sgt. Emanuel "Manny" Hauser-Crew Chief, S/Sgt. Carl Hofer-Radio Gunner, and S/Sgt. Mike Herrera-Tail Gunner) through May 23, 1944, a total of 30 combat missions. After his last mission with the Dorsey crew, Lt. Foster assumed responsibility as a Flight Lead Bombardier.

Lt. Foster flew his first mission as a Flight Lead Bombardier on May 8, 1944 with Capt. Luke Hargroves in WT-D "Little Mike" to the St. Quentin Coastal Defenses. It was a milk run.

Lt. Foster's first mission with the Helton crew (Lt. John D. "JD" Helton-Pilot, Lt. Paul Watson-Navigator, Lt. Foster-Bombardier) was flown on May 22, 1944 from Earls Colne Airfield to Pierre du Mont Coastal Defenses in WT-B "The Gremlin II" Serial No. 41-31708. The Helton crew flew six combat missions against railroad and highway bridges between Paris and the western French coast (May 25-Seraing Railroad Bridge, Liege, Belgium; May 28-Seraing Railroad Bridge, Liege, Belgium; May 29-Liege/Valbenoit Railroad Bridge, Belgium; May 29-Beauvoir Highway Bridge, France; May 30-Meulum Highway Bridge, France; and June 3-Meziers/Rangalone Highway Bridge, France).

The mission to the Seraing Railroad Bridge on May 25, 1944 has been described as a "mission where everything went to shit." Two 323rd aircraft were lost over the target; three others crash/emergency landed at emergency fields in England, and 28 of 36 323rd Marauders were seriously damaged by heavy, accurate and intense flak over the target area, near Liege, Belgium. It was the 323rd's second attack on the Seraing Railroad Bridge in six days. And they were sent back again three days later on June 28, 1944, this time with the Helton crew flying in the Lead Window Aircraft dropping bundles of small strips of metal or nickels instead of bombs head of the formation to disrupt Luftwaffe radar assisted 88 mm anti-aircraft guns. "The Gremlin II" sustained serious Flak battle damage on this mission, being the first aircraft over the target following the disastrous mission of May 25, 1944. (Each time B-26 crews were sent back to finish a target, Luftwaffe anti-aircraft batteries threw up increasingly intense flak barrages; the crews were highly motivated to take out a target on the first attempt because they knew they would get sent back the next day when the flak would be worse.)

The missions flown by B-26 crews stationed in Essex against railroad and highway bridges and rail marshaling yards in France and Belgium in the days leading up to and following D-Day were critical to the success of Allied ground forces in getting and staying ashore in the cross-Channel invasion. Both German and Allied commanders have credited the B-26 Marauder as the aircraft that did the most significant damage to the German Transportation system.

"On Friday evening [June 11, 1944], nearly midnight, de Guingund had come over to our war room and given Ike the picture. I happened to be present, and recall the main point, which was that because we had busted most of the bridges across the Seine, the Germans couldn't move reinforcements or reserves from the east direct --- they had to go around Paris. So the air people who are meeting at Starmore, whose meeting de Guingund had just attended, were laying on more bridge smashing and marshalling-yard destruction in the Paris area, particularly south of Paris. They also spotted ten vital bridges across the Loire River to the south of the battle area, and had laid on attacks to bust them . . . . . The plan of bombing transportation targets has paid well; if we had left their railroad yards, their bridges intact, we'd have been pushed off the beaches."

-Butcher, Harry C. My Three Years with Eisenhower (1945).

"Long after D-Day, there remained the sobering question as to whether the results of the [Transportation] plan were commensurate with the cost in air effort and ruin inflicted on French and Belgian cities. But those in the best position to know, the German generals, were 'strong in their belief that the various air attacks were ruinous to their counter-offensive plans.'

The plane that did the most damage was the B-26 Marauder developed by the Glen L. Martin Company. A medium bomber, it flew at low altitudes and could be extremely accurate, so it was the principal attacker of the railroad bridges and rail yards. After the war, Rommel's chief of staff, Hans Speidel, said, 'Destruction of railways was making regulated railway supply impossible as early as mid-May 1944 . . . . Lack of fuel paralyzed all movement. The Seine bridges below Paris and the Loire bridges below Orleans were destroyed before 6 June 1944’ . . . .

In a1946 interview, General Jodl said that 'the complete construction of the coastal defenses was not yet finished and never would have been because the necessary sand and concrete could not be brought up. Gordon Harrison, the official historian of the cross-Channel attack, concluded that by D-Day the 'transportation system [in France] was at a point of total collapse,' and this was 'to prove critical in the battle for Normandy.'"

-Ambrose, Stephen E. D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II

On the afternoon of June 6, 1944, D-Day, the Helton crew flew the 323rd's combat mission to Caen Road Junctions C-1 and C-2 "Orne Choke Points" located in the city center of Caen near the Orne River. Critical Past footage of this mission captures the Helton crew in flight in WT-B "The Gremlin II" crossing the English Channel. The photographer, Frank Scherschel took a photograph of the briefing session for this mission at Earls Colne Airfield. Lt. Foster is seated in the second row on the middle aisle wearing a ball cap with his bombardier's kit on his left knee. Lt. Helton is seated in the first row, second from the right. This photograph was published in the Time Life 70th Anniversary D-Day special edition. This was Lt. Foster's 42nd combat mission.

On June 10, 1944, the Helton crew flew in the Box II, Flight 2 lead aircraft, WT-A "Ole 33 Gal" Serial No. 41-35033 on a mission to Viaduc de Clecy, a railroad bridge over the Orne River at Clecy. (Lt. Dale Rush, one of Lt. Foster's best friends, had been killed in the bombardier's compartment of WT-A "Ole 33 Gal" just three weeks earlier on May 20, 1944 over Dieppe.) There is Critical Past footage of the bombs of Helton's Flight of six aircraft getting at least two direct hits on the head of the viaduct with numerous direct hits on the highway road underneath the viaduct. The Battle Stations: The B-26 Marauder episode on The History Channel features some of the Critical Past frottage of the 323rd hitting Clecy --- one of the flights of six preceding the Helton flight into the target.

On June 12, 1944, Lt. Helton earned a promotion and 30 days of leave in the States after persuading Generals Marshall, Arnold and Anderson to limit the B-26 combat crew tour of duty before earning leave to 65 missions. The Generals were at Earls Colne meeting with senior combat crews (including Helton and Foster) to announce an unlimited tour of duty for B-26 combat crews.

Lt. Foster flew a total of 16 missions with the Helton crew, mostly in "The Gremlin II" from May 22 through June 15, 1944 when they flew their second to last mission together to the Valognes Supply Dump; this was Lt. Foster's 47th combat mission.

On June 22, 1944, Lt. Foster flew his second Box Lead flight with Maj. Alfred Bolomberg-Pilot and Lt. Al Allison-Navigator in Box II, Flight 1 Lead to the Armentierres Marshalling Yard where they scored a direct hit on a German munitions train as it rolled into the yard. The plume of smoke resulting from the explosion reached 12,000 feet. This was another rough mission with 23 of 36 aircraft sustaining serious damage and three making emergency crash landings away from Earls Colne. This mission helped to solidify Lt. Foster's position as a Lead Bombardier with the 323rd, which has been credited with having among the best bombardiers in the 9th AF. (See Marauder Men, Maj. Gen. Jon O. Mench (USAF Ret.))

On July 18, 1944, Lt. Foster and Lt. Al Allison joined Lt. Col. Robert O. "Bob" Barker's crew flying most often in "Buckeye Battle Cry" WT-O Serial No. 41-31820 with either Lt. Col Barker, the CO of the 456th BS, or, when Lt. Col. Barker was not flying, with Maj. John Bull Stirling, the second in command of the 456th BS. On July 12, 1944, Lt. Allison became the Squadron's Navigator. Due to a lack of records, it's not clear whether Lt. Foster was appointed the Squadron's Bombardier at the same time, although that seems to have been the case at least de facto.

The mission on July 18 was to the Demouville Defended Area just east of Caen. It has been described as the most significant bombing effort of the war, and it was, again, in support of Field Marshall Montgomery, whose troops were bogged down, unable to break through. The 323rd BG was the penultimate B-26 group over the target that day, with all 9th AF bomb groups being sent to the target in an all out effort. The seven preceding B-26 bomb groups were not able to get their bombs within the target area due to flak, smoke and haze over the target. Using the same area bombing technique as the others, Box I led by the Barker crew got all of their bombs within the target area, and Box II got the majority of its bombs in the target area. This was yet another rough mission with 22 of 36 323rd Marauders sustaining serious battle damage, one aircraft lost over the target, one aircraft crash landed in England and five aircraft making emergency landings in the UK. Nine aircrew were killed, 18 aircrew were wounded and 15 aircrew were missing. Heavy, accurate and intense flak was encountered in and out of the target area. Accounts of returning aircrew describe an intense battle involving dueling ground, sea and air forces --- everything seemed to be exploding as aircraft streamed in and out of the target area. This was Lt. Foster's 50th mission.

Lt. Foster flew in the Box lead position on four of the 323rd's mandatory five night missions. On August 6, 1944, Lt. Foster, flying with Maj. John Bull Stirling-Pilot, Capt. William "Chief" Collins-Co-Pilot, and Lt. Al Allusion- Navigator in Box II lead flew from Earls Colne Airfield to the Ile de Cezzembre in WT-O "Buckeye Battle Cry". (Night flights were made in boxes of 10 Marauders following a Pathfinder, flying in single file to the target and dropping on Pathfinder flares illuminating the target area.) The night featured a full moon, and the returning crews described the mission as "creepy", as they did for each of the other night missions. The aircrews regarded night mission as being among their worst and most dangerous due in part to the risk of mid-air collisions and the fact that they were "sitting ducks" for Luftwaffe defenses. Maj. Stirling provides an excellent account of this mission in "Strikes" by Ross Harlan. In the same article, Stirling recounts an amusing and typical story of Chief Collins and Red Dog Arnold, with whom the war correspondent, Ernie Pyle, flew during his two-week stay with the 456th BS just prior to the invasion.

On August 27, 1944, the Barker crew flew "Buckeye Battle Cry" WT-O on the first mission flown by the 9th AF from French soil. Lt. Frank Burgmeier flew as GEE Navigator with the Barker crew on that mission from an airfield adjacent to Lessay, France to the Rouen Bridge. Footage of this mission is at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

Lt. Foster flew the final combat missions of both Lt. Col. Barker and Maj. John Bull Stirling on September 10 and 22, 1944, respectively, with Barker in "Buckeye Battle Cry" and with Stirling in "Georgia Miss" WT-W. The latter was Lt. Foster's 60th credited combat mission.

Lt. Foster and Capt. Helton flew their 17th and last mission together on October 7, 1944 to the Eskirchen Strong Points; Lt. Burgmeier flew as Navigator, and Lt. Robert Smith flew as Co-Pilot with them in WT-B "The Gremlin II" on that mission.

Lt. Foster flew his 66th and final combat mission on December 1, 1944 from Laon /Athies Airfield just north east of the Town of Laon to the St. Vith/St. Arlautern Strong Points in Germany with Capt. Lou Rehr-Pilot in "City of Sherman" WT-K; it was a training mission for replacement combat crew, and it turned out to be a "milk run".

On December 16, 1944, Lt. Foster, no doubt with mixed feelings, said goodbye to his close tent buddies and very good friends Lt. Frank Burgmeier, PFC Pat(ricia), and PFC Oscar. Lt. Burgmeier still needed one more mission, which he was not able to get until December 23 in a very difficult mission to the Eller Bridge in the Battle of the Bulge. Lt. Robert Smith was also a good friend, as was Lt. John Guldemond. Lt. Foster, Capt. PJ Williamson and Lt. Bradley boarded either a Red Ball Express or troop transport truck to Versailles that afternoon where they slept on cots inside Versailles Palace for several weeks with hundreds of other GI's waiting to go home. Lt. Foster spent Christmas Eve and Christmas 1944 there. The three had just managed to make it out of Laon/Athies Airfield as the Battle of the Bulge broke out in the nearby Ardennes Forest. Once again, lucky.

Serving with the 456th was one of the most significant experiences in Lt. Col. Foster' life, in which service to his country and helping others were consistent themes. He and Lt. Burgmeier lost their close friend Lt. Leo Dale Rush, a bombardier, on May 20, 1944 to flak over Dieppe. Their friend, Lt. Donald Parker, also a bombardier, was killed in action over a German Marshalling Yard on March 26, 1945, after Lt. Foster and Lt. Burgmeier had gone home. Luck was a big factor in determining who survived the war.

The transition back into the lives they had left behind when they were deployed was difficult. The persons their family and loved ones had known no longer existed. So much had changed.

Lt. Foster proposed to his sweetheart, Betty Boyd of Houston, Texas, on St. Valentine's Day 1945; they married on May 28, 1944 and had three children. He rarely spoke of his experience during the Second World War. Like most veterans of his era, he regarded himself as no kind of hero – he said he was merely following orders and doing what he was told to do. He was recalled to active duty for the Korean War and served in the Strategic Air Command during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War and the War in South East Asia.

When he retired as the as the highest-ranking and chief navigator in the USAF in the fall of 1967, he held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was stationed with his family at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, known as “The Showplace of SAC”, and assigned to the 28th Strategic Bombardment Wing. At the time of his retirement, he simultaneously held command positions in two of the three legs of the US Armed Forces’ nuclear triad - he flew in B-52 Stratofortress bombers armed with nuclear weapons, and held a command position in the 44th Strategic Missile Wing (comprised of the 66th, 67th and 68th Strategic Missile Squadrons). The 44th SMW was responsible for operating 150 HGM-30 Minuteman I Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), representing one-third of the United States’ ICBMs, with responsibility over the 44th ’s three squadrons and launch sites located at Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota and Minot and Grand Forks Air Force Bases in North Dakota. He was required to sign a lifetime confidentiality agreement when he left the service, which he honored. As reported in February 2016 by The New York Times, many, if not all, of those secrets he kept (including encryption methods, targets and flight plans) are still classified as Top Secret.

Following his retirement from the USAF, Lt. Col. Foster taught mathematics and history for several years before becoming a full-time investor. In 2008, as a result of the efforts of his youngest daughter, he re-connected with his close tent buddy, Lt. Frank Burgmeier, after having not spoken since 16 December 1944 (63 years), although both attended and were graduated from Syracuse University in the two and one-half to three years following their return to the States. Waiting so long to reconnect was one of their regrets---in many ways they had been as close as brothers as they struggled to survive and keep their spirits up in the harsh conditions and climate in France, which experienced its coldest winter in 50 years in 1944.

Lt. Col. Foster passed away on Christmas Eve 2012, just a few weeks after Betty; they were happily married over 67 years. A Marine Honor Guard led by another veteran of the Second World War firing 21 volleys over his coffin laid him to rest at the historic Lamar Cemetery located just north of Rockport, Texas. The Marine who was a veteran of the Second World War presented Lt. Col. Foster’s two daughters with the flag that had covered his coffin.

- May 2018

Service

People

  • Robert Barker

    Military | Colonel | Pilot - B-26 Marauder | 323rd Bomb Group
    Born on October 9, 1919 in London, Ohio, Lt. Col. Barker was graduated from Ohio State University ("OSU"). He earned his "wings" at "The West Point of the Air" at Randolph Field, Texas. He was part of the original Myrtle Beach, SC group that comprised...

  • Frank Burgmeier

    Military | First Lieutenant | Navigator - B-26 Marauder | 323rd Bomb Group
    Lt. Burgmeier grew up in Upstate New York. He married his wife, Tedi, in July 1943, just days before he left for his tour of duty as a navigator for the 323rd Bombardment Group. He kept a diary, which has been invaluable to historians studying the...

  • Burma Dog

    Military | Private First Class | Mascot | 323rd Bomb Group

  • Patricia Dog

    Military | Private First Class | Flight Surgeon/Pet | 323rd Bomb Group
    One of PFC Gin Fizz'a puppies. Pat made the trip form Earls Colne to Lessay to Chartes to Laon and probably a few other stations.

  • John Guldemond

    Military | Pilot | 323rd Bomb Group

  • John Helton

    Military | Colonel | Pilot | 323rd Bomb Group
    JD Helton was from the Waco, Texas area and served as a B-26 Marauder pilot during the Second World War. He was part of the original Myrtle Beach contingent that comprised the 456th BS. ...

  • Thomas Lemmon

    Military | First Lieutenant | 323rd Bomb Group

  • Oscar Parson Russell Terrier

    Military | Private First Class | Flight surgeon/Pet | 323rd Bomb Group
    Oscar makes a cameo appearance in the 1943 video of a 323rd mission. He's over by the bicycles parked soon the side of the Situation Room, which was across the road and up a little bit from the grouping of officers' quarters at Site No. 13 at Earls...

  • Louis Rehr

    Military | Lieutenant Colonel | pilot - B-26 Marauder | 323rd Bomb Group

  • Leo Rush

    Military | Lieutenant | Bombardier, B-26 Marauder | 323rd Bomb Group
    Dale Rush served with the 456th BS as a bombardier. He was killed on May 20, 1944 on a mission to Dieppe when "Ole 33 Gal" WT-A Serial No. 41-35033, flying in the Box II, Flight 3 lead position, took a direct hit of heavy flak that shattered the...

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Units served with

  • 323rd Bomb Group

    323rd Bomb Group

    Group
    The 323rd Bombardment Group operated with B-26 Marauders, American medium bombers. They were the first Eighth Air Force Group to fly a medium level bombing mission with this aircraft on 16 July 1943. After flying a total of 33 missions with the Eighth,...

  • 456th Bomb Squadron

    456th Bomb Squadron

    Squadron
    Selected Bibliography of Publications: ...

Aircraft

Associated Place

  • Earls Colne

    Military site : airfield
    Earls Colne was built in 1941 as an airfield for No.3 Group, RAF Bomber Command, although never used as such. Assigned to the US Eighth Air Force (as Station 358) in 1942, its 36 hardstands were increased to 50, bringing the airfield up to Air Ministry...

  • Marks Hall

    Military site : non-airfield
    Marks Hall's estate was requisitioned in 1941 for the construction of Earls Colne airfield (USAAF Station 358). ...

  • Laon/Athies

    Military site : airfield

  • Lessay

    Military site : airfield

  • Chartres

    Military site : airfield

Events

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Revisions

Date Contributor Update
29 March 2020 18:34:42 jmoore43 Changes to aircraft associations
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Added a connection to A/C #41-31810 listed in the photo attached to Emanuel "Manny" Hauser.

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21 January 2020 22:01:01 JMF Changes to place associations and aircraft associations
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JMF - Updated Post War Bio

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28 March 2016 19:33:27 JMF Created entry with surname, middlename, firstname, nickname, nationality, highest rank, role, biography, unit associations, place associations and aircraft associations
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