Lt. (jg) John Gordon Foster

Killed In Action - April 6, 1945

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Lt.(jg) John Gordon Foster reported aboard the USS Bush on January 27, 1945 for temporary duty in connection with Fighter Direction activity. This fighter direction activity was the primary mission of destroyers on the picket line at Okinawa. Radar picket ships like the USS Bush could give advance warning to the rest of the invasion force and direct friendly planes to intercept incoming enemy planes or other potential targets.

Ensign Franklin Coit Butler, part of the Bush Fighter Direction team remembers that Foster was specifically trained to maintain and operate the new SC-2 (air search) radar. Butler notes that the SC radar "for the first time gave us an accurate altitude as well as distance and track of approaching planes. This radar was installed only on Radar Picket Destroyers." Butler said all of the BUSH radarmen worked to maintain and operate the radio and internal communication equipment, and the various radars used on the ship -- surface, air, and fire control.

Coit Butler says Foster's nickname was "Fuzzy". When they reported together for Fighter Direction duty, Foster's nickname was already in place. How he received that nickname remains a mystery.

Lt.(jg) John Gordon Foster
Lt.(jg) John Foster
Lt.(jg) Foster was killed on April 6, 1945 when the USS Bush was sunk by three Japanese suicide planes while on radar picket duty during the battle for Okinawa. A telegram was received by Foster's parents on April 18, 1945 notifying them of his death. John's last letter to his folks was dated March 27, 1945.

Born June 22, 1917 John Gordon Foster spent much of his youth in Bristol, Connecticut. A very bright fellow, he earned many scholastic honors through high school and college, including the 1934 "Yankee Ingenuity Scholarship" valued at $800. This scholarship was earned while John was a freshman at the Worchester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts. He won the award for building a lathe out of a broken washing machine motor and scrap from an automobile junk yard. In 1938 John graduated with his Bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering and went to work.

With the United States having entered World War II, John joined the Navy in October, 1942. In early 1943, he was sent to the United States Naval Academy for officer's training. That same year upon receiving his Ensign's commission, he was given training in use and maintenance of radar equipment at Bowdoin, M.I.T. and Pearl Harbor. In July of 1944 he was part of the overall effort to retake key locations in the Marianas Island group, then he returned to Pearl Harbor as a radar instructor.

When the USS Bush was lost, Lt.(jg) Foster was one of two men whose bodies were not recovered but were listed as "Killed in Action" rather than "Missing in Action". Foster survived the first two kamikaze planes to strike the USS Bush. When the third suicide plane struck the ship, Foster was killed. Witness statements by USS Bush officers Lt.(jg) Earl Sechrist and Lt. Harry Stanley confirmed his death, and final resting place on the starboard side of the No. 1 5-inch gun. The ship's doctor, Lt. George Johnson, prepared a death certificate based upon those statements ... thus the "KIA" status.

Commander Rollin E. Westholm, Commanding Officer of the USS Bush on her final day, wrote to Foster's parents in a letter dated June 4, 1945. This letter included the following:

My dear Mr. and Mrs. Foster,

It is with deep regret that I, Senior Survivor of the USS BUSH, write to you concerning your son, John Gordon Foster, who was killed in action against the enemy on April 6, 1945.

John survived the initial action and was directing the repair of vital radio material which had been damaged in the first attack. Later in the afternoon we were severely hit forward in the area in which he was working. He was killed almost instantly by the terrific blast and concussion of the hit. His body could not be recovered because of the intense heat of the raging fire that soon thereafter covered nearly the whole forward part of the ship. The circumstances of the ship's loss itself prevented the recovery of any personal effects.

Your son had only been aboard two months but in that short time he proved himself to be an excellent officer and wonderful shipmate. No matter what had to be done he was always in good spirits. The excellence of our radio material was due in great measure to his enthusiasm and technical ability. He put in many long hours to be sure that our equipment was in constant working order. His loss is felt very profoundly by all of us who survived. His courage and performance of duty were in the best traditions of the naval service. I can only say that we share your sorrow and will always hold the memory of John's sacrifice for his country in our hearts.

Very sincerely,

Commander, U. S. Navy
Former Commanding Officer

Pictured below are those USS Bush officers serving with Lt.(jg) Foster and noted in the above text.
Shipmates of Lt.(jg) John G. Foster
From left to right:
Ensign Butler, Lt.(jg) Sechrist, Lt. Stanley, Lt. Johnson, Commander Westholm

A WPI Alumni publication noted "This war has robbed the world of few young men of greater mental capacity than John Foster possessed". In addition to school records supporting this observation, the Navy had similar sentiments regarding John's intellect. In a letter dated October 29, 1946, John's father, Addison L. Foster, quoted the following comments from Admiral Chester Nimitz:
The scholastic standing maintained by Lieutenant (jg) Foster was very high. At the U.S. Naval Reserve Midshipman's School, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis Maryland, he ranked sixteenth in a class of two hundred and ninety-one (291) and his final grade of 3.46. He ranked among the highest with a score of 3.8 at the Naval Training School (Radar) Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he was among the top five in a class of one hundred and fifty-two (152) with a score of 3.5, and was passed "with honor".
At the age of eight, John Foster began a life of building tools, fixing furniture, and tinkering with various inventions he created. His life long interest and aptitude for technical disciplines was very evident. So it is not a surprise that when his ship was in distress, he would spend the last moments his life using his "Yankee Ingenuity" to help repair radio equipment his shipmates would need.


Special thanks are in order for the following people who assisted with providing much of the information used to honor and remember Lt. (jg) John Gordon Foster:

Rodney Obien and the WPI Archives & Special Collection, George C. Gordon Library for the letters, articles and pictures regarding John Gordon Foster.

John "Jack" Denehy, founder and curator of the Memorial Military Museum Inc. in Bristol, CT, whose determined and enthusiastic spirit was essential in bringing a Lt. Foster photo page to this website.

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