WW2 VET RECALLS BATTLE OF THE BULGE
Just a teenager, Al Foust joined the U.S. Army in 1941 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and spent most of his time in Europe as the war raged on.
Now 100 years old, Foust doesn’t consider his enlistment as anything extraordinary.
“That was the patriotic thing to do. We were at war,” he said.
After high school, Foust worked in construction and surveying, so he decided to serve in the Army in the Corps of Engineers.
At first, he remained stateside with the Corps of Engineers, building hospitals, railroads, and an ordinance depot. He moved around for additional training.
“In California, in the desert, I was trained for (service in) North Africa. In Louisiana, I was trained for jungle warfare,” he said.
The North Africa and jungle training weren’t much help for Foust.
Needing more forces for June 6, 1944, D-Day, Foust was sent to Europe with the Army Air Corps. He spent time in England, France, Belgium, Holland and Germany during the war. On D-Day, “I was in England, finishing up my Airborne training at a British facility,” he said.
Much of the time, Foust worked with maps to guide troops in the war.
“It was an important job. It was scary delivering maps on the front line, driving down the road, and mortar shells were coming our way,” Foust said in a biography his family is compiling.
Foust participated in several key European offensives, including the Battle of the Ruhr in 1943, an Allied bombing campaign designed to destroy German war manufacturing. He also was involved in the Ardennes Offensive or the Battle of the Bulge in 1944-45. The last major German offensive of the war, the Battle of the Bulge, was fought in harsh winter conditions in Belgium, and more than 75,000 American soldiers lost their lives.
“That was a big one,” he said, discussing the Battle of the Bulge. “(I remember it) like it was yesterday … It was cold, and — neither side — we weren’t equipped.”
Like many other soldiers, Foust suffered frostbite during the winter in Europe.
When asked about the scariest time of the war for him, Foust recounts a time in London, not on the battlefield.
“I was in London on leave when London came under attack. So we took shelter in the underground. You’d call it a subway here,” he said, explaining that the bombs crashing into London were motorized, guided bombs.
He was crammed into the underground with English civilians and others.
“They had air raid alarms, and when an alarm went off, everybody took off for the shelters. It was a 24-hour thing,” he said.
After their fighting ended, Foust worked on establishing a memorial site for the burial of people who perished in a concentration camp. He stayed in Germany with the Army of Occupation and worked in managing displaced persons and reconstructing the war-torn land.
Foust served four years, four months, and four days and was honorably discharged in 1946.
His stretch in the Army would guide him into a career as a civil engineer. He worked in far-flung countries around the world building infrastructure and found that every country where he worked was at war or in the middle of civil unrest.
He worked building highways, airports and other infrastructure in Liberia, Bolivia, the Amazon, El Salvador, Bangladesh, Indonesia, The Sultanate of Oman and Ethiopia.
For example, he was in Bangladesh as the country was fighting for its independence from East Pakistan. Bangladesh declared its independence in 1971.
He met his wife Birdie, a missionary nurse, in Africa, and three of their five children were born there.
In 1990 Foust retired to his rural Eagle Creek home. He spent countless hours volunteering at the Portland Veterans Hospital. He’s been a member of the American Legion for 74 years.
He’s been recognized locally for his service. Sunday, Aug. 14, was declared Al Foust day in Estacada, marking the veteran’s 100 birthday and honoring his service and extraordinary life.
Reflecting on his long and remarkable life, Foust said, “It was an educational experience. In this country, we don’t realize how great we have everything.”