World War II vet spends lifetime enriching others

Published 11:42 am Thursday, May 25, 2017

By Mike Barnhardt

Enterprise Record

COOLEEMEE – The Autumn Believers still meet at the Autumn Care in Mocksville.

Some 25 years ago, James “Doll” Foster started the Sunday School class. He had been teaching Sunday School at First Baptist here for years, and kept telling his wife he wanted to do something for the residents at Autumn Care.

“She said, ‘Come on, we’re going to Autumn Care. You talk about it, now let’s do something’.”

The Autumn Believers still meet, although Foster, at age 94, has given up teaching the class, although he’s still a regular teacher at church

An easy-going, kind man, Foster life has been filled with moments of enriching others, working at the VA Hospital in Salisbury, and before that, serving his country during World War II.

He served in the infantry, in New Jersey and then England, and then joining the Third Army in France and Austria. The memories are still vivid.

He remembers well liberating a Nazi concentration camp at the end of the war. The Nazis guarding the camp ran, but the prisoners did not. After years of being tortured and starved, they didn’t know what to do.

He remembers their striped pajamas, and them mechanically walking back and forth with blank stares, even after being freed.

“That’s the one thing I think about,” he said. “The faces of those people – you can’t forget. They were just like skeletons, like zombies. You could tell they were clinging together. They never spoke – just stared.”

He still wonders how, or if, those people ever went back to a resemblance of a normal life. It also made him wonder about people in general.

“I couldn’t imagine how horrible people can be to one another until I saw it first hand,” he said.

Foster didn’t talk about his time in war often because, according to him, so many other people went through much more than he did.

“I was proud I was able to serve in World War II. I’m no kind of war hero because so many guys did so much more.”

He’s been asked time and again if he saw Gen. George Patton. No, he didn’t, although they were at the same camp.

It was a lot to take in for a boy from Cooleemee.

Foster was raised on Joyner Street.

“Cooleemee wasn’t the same,” he said. “It was like one big family. We knew where everybody lived. If a dog trotted down the road, you knew whose dog it was and what its name was. We took care of each other.”

That way of life never escaped Foster.

The son of Luther and Ora Foster, he quit school just before graduation to work in the mill. He didn’t like it. He worked in a furniture factory in Mocksville for a year, then back at the mill for a short time before getting the job at the VA Hospital.

His care for veterans grew.

“Veterans deserve what they can get for their service. A true veteran, anything the VA can do for them, I’m for it 100 percent,” Foster said.

His wife, Nancy Ridenhour Foster, whom he married in 1956, also worked at the VA.

Even with all he’s been through, Foster has never taken advantage of VA services. He’s thinking about applying now for help when he’s no longer able to take care of himself.

He’s thankful for Judy Webb and everyone who help throw him a 94th birthday party earlier this spring. “I really appreciate everybody who came and everybody who had something to do with it.” He tried to speak with everyone individually, but worries he may have missed a few.