BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D. Paul Hellstrom Foster, a native of California, posthumously received the Medal of Honor for heroism in Vietnam in October 1967.
Foster was born on April 17, 1939, in San Mateo, California. He attended elementary and high schools there, and was a member of the varsity football and track teams. After graduating from high school in 1957, he went to work as an automobile mechanic helper.
He enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve on November 4, 1961, in San Francisco, California, and received recruit training with the 1st Recruit Training Battalion at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, and individual combat training with the 2nd Infantry Training Regiment at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.
After completion of combat training in March 1962, he joined the 5th 105 mm Howitzer Battery (later redesignated Headquarters Battery, 14th Marines, 4th Marine Division), a Reserve unit, at Navy and Marine Corps Training Center Treasure Island in San Francisco. While on inactive duty, he was promoted to private first class in March 1963, to Lance Corporal in August 1963; to Corporal in April 1964, and to Sergeant on February 1, 1966.
Foster was called to active duty in November 1966 when he embarked for the Republic of Vietnam, and in December, joined Company H, 3rd Battalion 12th Marines, 3rd Marine Division. While serving as an Artillery Liaison Operations Chief with the 2nd Battalion 4th Marines in Operation Kingfisher near Con Thien at Wash Out Bridge on October 14, 1967, Sergeant Foster was mortally wounded when he threw himself upon a hand grenade to save the lives of five comrades.
In the second week of October 1967 the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, relieved BLT 2/3 as the defense force for the recently built bridge north of Strongpoint C-2. The construction of the bridge had permitted the reopening of the vital road to Con Thien washed out by the heavy September rains. The battalion defended the bridge because the 3rd Marine Division was concerned that if the enemy destroyed the bridge they would cut the only supply line to Con Thien.
The defense of the bridge was no easy task for Lieutenant Colonel Hammond’s battalion. Since its move north from Camp Evans on 11 September, constant combat around Con Thien had worn the battalion down from a “foxhole strength” of 952 to about 462. The 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines had great difficulty in manning all the defensive positions prepared by the departed full-strength BLT-2/3.
The defensive position around the bridge was divided into quadrants by virtue of the road, which ran roughly north and south, and the stream, which ran east and west. Golf Company had the northwest quadrant; Hotel Company was on the same side of the road but across the stream in the southwest quadrant. Fox Company was in the northeast; Echo Company in the southeast. The battalion command group set up beside the stream in Golf Company’s area and near the center of the position.
At 0125 on 14 October, 25 artillery rounds, rockets, and 135-150 mortar rounds hit Hotel Company. An ambush squad posted in front of the company reported an enemy force moving toward it, and immediately took the advancing enemy under fire. The Marine squad leader notified his company that he had three casualties and that the enemy seriously outnumbered his squad. The company commander, Captain Arthur P. Brill, Jr., ordered the squad to pull back and, at the same time, called for night defensive fires to block the avenues of approach to his position. The battalion requested flare ships to illuminate the area. Using starlight scopes, sniper teams watched the enemy as they massed only 50 meters in front of the company. The snipers and two tanks attached to the company opened fire, forcing the North Vietnamese to start their assault prematurely. The rest of the Hotel Company held fire until the NVA troops reached a clearing 20 meters from the wire. Of the entire attacking unit, only two NVA soldiers reached the wire and Marines killed both as they tried to breach that obstacle.
The enemy withdrew, leaving bodies behind, but they were far from finished. At 0230, enemy mortars shelled Golf Company. Direct hits by RPGs destroyed a machine gun emplacement and several backup positions on the primary avenue of approach into the company position. The NVA force attacked through this break, overran the company command post, and killed the company commander, Captain Jack W. Phillips, and his forward observer. Three platoon leaders, two of whom had just arrived in Vietnam that morning, also died. The battalion sent its S-3A, Captain James W. McCarter, Jr., to replace Phillips, but enemy fire killed him before he reached Golf Company. During the confused, hand-to-hand combat some of the North Vietnamese fought their way within grenade range of the battalion command post in the center of the position.
In the command post, although wounded by a grenade, Foster, a member of the fire support coordination center, continued to direct mortar and artillery fire upon the enemy. Another grenade landed among a group of six Marines. Foster threw his flak jacket over the grenade and jumped on top of the jacket. The grenade blast mortally wounded him, but this action saved his fellow Marines. Before the melee ended, the North Vietnamese killed or wounded the entire forward air control team. The enemy also killed the battalion medical chief, and wounded the fire support coordinator, headquarters commandant, and battalion sergeant major.
Lieutenant Colonel Hammond moved what was left of his command group to a better location within Hotel Company’s position. He ordered Fox Company to move to Golf Company’s right flank and counterattack to push the NVA forces out of the perimeter. Illumination and automatic weapons fire from “Puff,” the AC-47 requested at the beginning of the fight and which arrived about 0330, aided the counterattack. By 0430, the enemy began retreating out of the position, pursued by Echo Company.
The next morning the 2nd Battalion reconsolidated and evacuated casualties. There were twenty-one dead (18 from 2/4 Marines) and two dozen or more wounded. The NVA lost at least 24 killed. That afternoon, Lieutenant General Cushman and Major General Hochmuth visited the bridge site. They granted a request from Lieutenant Colonel Hammond that the new bridge be named “Bastard’s Bridge” to honor the 18 Marines of the 2nd Battalion who gave their lives in its defense. At 1400, Hammond’s battalion turned over the bridge to Lieutenant Colonel Needham’s 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines and then moved to Dong Ha where it assumed the mission of regimental reserve after 42 days of close combat.
The Medal of Honor was presented to Foster’s family by President Richard M. Nixon, in a ceremony at the White House on June 20, 1969.
Awards and honors
Foster’s medals and decorations include:
|Medal of Honor|
|Purple Heart||Navy Presidential Unit Citation||Organized Marine Corps Reserve Medal|
|National Defense Service Medal||Vietnam Service Medal w/ 1 service star||Vietnam Campaign Medal|
Medal of Honor citation
The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pride in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR posthumously to
SERGEANT PAUL H. FOSTER
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS RESERVE
for service as set forth in the following CITATION:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as an Artillery Liaison Operations Chief with the Second Battalion, Fourth Marines, Third Marine Division, near Con Thien in the Republic of Vietnam. In the early morning hours of October 14, 1967, the Second Battalion was occupying a defensive position which protected a bridge on the road leading from Con Thein to Cam Lo. Suddenly, the Marines’ position came under a heavy volume of mortar and artillery fire, followed by an aggressive enemy ground assault. In the ensuing engagement, the hostile forces penetrated the perimeter and brought a heavy concentration of small arms, automatic weapons, and rocket fire to bear on the Battalion Command Post. Although his position in the Fire Support Coordination Center was dangerously exposed to enemy fire and he was wounded when an enemy hand grenade exploded near his position, Sergeant Foster resolutely continued to direct accurate mortar and artillery fire on the advancing North Vietnamese troops. As the attack continued, a hand grenade landed in the midst of Sergeant Foster and his five companions. Realizing the danger, he shouted a warning, threw his armored vest over the grenade, and unhesitatingly placed his own body over the armored vest. When the grenade exploded, Sergeant Foster absorbed the entire blast with his own body and was mortally wounded. His heroic actions undoubtedly saved his comrades from further injury or possible death. Sergeant Foster’s courage, extraordinary heroism, and unfaltering devotion to duty reflected great credit upon himself and the Marine Corps and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
/S/ RICHARD NIXON
Sergeant Paul Hellstrom Foster is buried in Grave 4764, Section V, Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, California.
The information in this article was sourced from a variety of sources both internal and external. Every effort was made to ensure that the information is current and correct. These articles are presented to honor the heroes they are written about.
If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a veteran.
here was ayoung man who after graduating from high school in 1957, became an auto mechanic.and he decided to join the marine corp reserves maybe perhaps to supplement his income.he was called to active duty and sent to viet-nam.where he was killed.try to imagine his life if he and the 60,000 who were also killed in that senseless war,if the government did notforce them to go.from a n auto mechanic helper,maybe foster would haveeventually owned his own shop and raise a family.the viet-nam war was totally unnecesarry and falsely started by our government. even Robert McNamara admitted the war was a huge mistakeon our part.our government and politicians wasted all these precious lives on both sides.we never learn from this.we keep repeating the same old lies.
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