A World War II serviceman is paired with a Valley man on a trip of a lifetime
Jerry Jackson is a history buff with a special fascination for World War II. His passion for the brave soldiers who served during the war led him to a fund raising dinner for Central Valley Honor Flight, the non-profit organization that has been taking World War II veterans to Washington, DC to see the memorials to our service men and women.
“I have a particular interest in the European theater,” Jerry told me. “My grandfather served there during the war.”
Jerry’s interest in his grandfather’s service, coupled with a weekly radio program airing in the Central Valley, buttoned up his desire to take the next step to learn more about Honor Flight.
“Paul Loeffler put a face and a voice to my interest in World War II through his weekly radio program, Hometown Heroes”, Jerry said. The radio program airs on a Fresno radio station. All the interviews with World War II veterans are archived on the Hometown Heroes website.
Jerry attended a fund raising event for the organization and soon discovered he wanted to volunteer for Honor Flight as a guardian for the next mission of Central Valley Honor Flight.
Guardians serve their assigned veteran throughout their Honor Flight experience. With most living World War II veterans now in their eighties and nineties, it’s important that they have someone at their side throughout the duration of the trip.
“We’re told right up front that we stay with our veteran throughout the trip,” Jerry said. “We are there to serve them.”
Jerry’s desire to serve Honor Flight came with a big barrier. The volunteer guardians are asked to contribute one-thousand dollars toward their own cost to fly to and stay in the nations’ capitol. As the father of three, with two in school and living at home, that contribution might have been the deal killer.
“I told my wife I wanted to go, but that I shouldn’t because of the cost,” he said. “She suggested starting a Go Fund Me campaign on-line.”
That on-line fundraising effort paid off for Jerry. Family and friends were enthusiastic in their support and made contributions. The success of his campaign on Go Fund Me, coupled with a family yard sale, got him to the point where he could do it. Soon, he had the money to make the contribution.
He got vacation time off from his job working for the Madera County Public Works department. The next step was to meet the veteran he would be accompanying to Washington.
About two weekends before the Honor Flight left, Jerry met his veteran.
He’s Foy Foster
Foy served in the Army Air Corp as a bombardier in a B-24. He flew 35 missions out of England in the 734th Squadron of the 453rd Bomb Group. Jerry met Foy at the veteran’s home. Jerry took Foy to an informational meeting and dinner held in Atwater.
“He’s a great guy,” Jerry said. “After meeting him I told friends I’m looking forward to our trip.”
Foy Foster is indeed a great guy. In an interview for the radio program Hometown Heroes, Foy described his war experiences.
He enlisted in the Army Air Force as soon as heard of the Pearl Harbor attacks on December 7, 1941.
“I was overcome with patriotism, and I couldn’t imagine our country being attacked like that,” he told Hometown Heroes host Paul Loeffler. “After basic training in San Antonio, I was sent to Albuquerque, New Mexico for bombardier school. I got my wings in 1942 as a Second Lieutenant."
While he was a cadet in Albuquerque, he was chosen to sit in the co-pilot’s seat for a mission.
In the pilot’s seat was film star Jimmy Stewart
“He was very nervous all the time,” Foy said. “He kept telling me to keep my eyes moving and watch out for other planes.”
Stewart made the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life after leaving his service in World War II.
“Colonel Stewart was so skinny,” Foy told Hometown Heroes. “He was a great guy.”
Right around the same time as his encounters with the Hollywood actor, Foy became an instructor for six months in the southwest. He would later volunteer for overseas duty. He then became an instructor for B-17 pilots, and then chosen as a staff officer for a newly formed 453rd Bomb Group flying B-24s.
“We were so busy for about four months teaching,” Foy said. “We were anxious for the real thing.”
“I remember our first mission out of England to France, it was all new to us,” he said. “In later (missions) we had flack, pieces of metal, throughout the air. Every minute over Nazi Germany we were under attack.”
Foy also took part in D-Day. He told Hometown Heroes:
“We had to gear up and leave at midnight for a bombing at daybreak. .. We met up with the others over England. There were planes everywhere. .. Our first mission was to drop bombs on the German army. We flew back to England, reloaded, and flew back…That first day we did three missions.”
Foy endured the loss of his flight crew (he was grounded on that particular mission due to a bad cold), as well as attacks by friendly fire.
He served honorably. Upon his return to the states, he went to college, married, and raised a family.
And now, he’s on a final mission to pay his respects to his lost comrades and to accept the thanks from a grateful nation.
Central Valley Honor Flight departed Monday morning, October 19 from the air strip at the former Castle Air Force Base. The veterans and their guardians were greeted by what some described as the largest send-off crowd in the short history of Honor Flight.
This current group of Honor Flight honorees is made up of sixty-one men and two women. They come from all over the Central Valley, with some thirteen counties represented on this trip.
For guardian Jerry Jackson and his assigned veteran Foy Foster, a friendship has started. They are two men bound together for a trip to honor the men and women who gave so much by defending our nation.
To hear the entire Foy Foster interview from Hometown Heroes, go to: http://www.hometownheroesradio.com/episodes/ Scroll down to episode 161
For more on Central Valley Honor Flight, go to: http://www.cvhonorflight.org/
Steve Newvine lives in Merced
He has written Finding Bill, a story about his uncle who served in Vietnam.