Prewar Life to WAVES

Serving in the WAVES



Mrs. P.A. "Tippy" Foster was born in December 1920 in Kaufman, Texas. She grew up in East Texas as one of seven children. As the youngest sibling, Foster often stayed at home with her mother while the rest of the family was out working on the family farm. The family managed to survive the Great Depression [Annotator's Note: The Great Depression, a global economic depression that lasted from 1929 through 1945] because of their ability to farm. Foster was naive, but she knew about rising tensions in the world in the late 1930s. It would be an easy task to beat back any attacker. Foster was home with her family gathered around the radio when news of the attack on Pearl Harbor [Annotator's Note: the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941] was announced. She thought to herself, "What are you doing? This is the U.S. you are messing with!" Two of Foster's elder brothers joined the military, and both came home safely after the war. The family was proud of them for joining, but also afraid for their safety. After Pearl Harbor, Foster's life was turned upside down. America was not prepared to fight a war, much less two wars. The country found a sense of determination at the time that ultimately won the war. Foster began working for an aviation plant making bullets. She felt like she was helping as much as she could, even if it did not feel like her help was resulting in much progress in the war at first. The Navy was recruiting women to free men for combat. Many of the men remaining at home did not think this was a good idea at all. They were not anxious to go and fight. However, the men at home began to accept the women's contribution after realizing what a benefit they were. One day on her way home from work, Foster stopped by a Navy recruiter seeking some information. The recruiter did not believe Foster was 21 and made her come back with her birth certificate. When she returned, the recruiter signed her up. Foster's father was working away from home at the time and sent her a telegram pleading with her not to go before he had the chance to make it home. She could not tell Uncle Sam "No" and was soon on her way to basic training. Her father got over not being able to see her off and became immensely proud of her, even taking her to work with him to show her off in her uniform while she was home on furlough [Annotator's Note: an authorized absence for a short period of time]. Foster believes it was late 1942 when she arrived in the Bronx [Annotator's Note: the Bronx is one of the five boroughs in New York, New York] for basic training. She requested a job doing office work but was denied. After basic training, Foster was sent to Memphis, Tennessee to begin training as an aviation machinist mate. Because of her childhood on the farm, she was handy with tools from the start while many other girls did not know the difference between a screwdriver and a hammer.


After completing basic training in New York [Annotator's Note: New York, New York] and more training in Memphis, Tennessee, Mrs. P.A. "Tippy" Foster [Annotator's Note: with the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service; United States Naval Women's Reserve; WAVES] was sent to Alameda, California where she was assigned to an engine testing room. The "old chief" - called Richstadt [Annotator's Note: phonetic spelling]- thought this to be too heavy work for her and reassigned her to the tool chamber where she oversaw keeping tools and parts in place after being used to repair the aircraft. Richstadt treated her very well and would run off any sailors who stayed around her for too long. News of the war and briefings reached Foster often and she was well informed on what was happening overseas. She maintained her belief that winning the war would be easy, but soon began to question her choice of joining the Navy because of the strict discipline and routine she was living under. She often worried about her brother who was overseas and often wrote letters to him, though she seldom received replies. The government encouraged women to write letters to their loved ones to keep morale high. In nearly three years of service, Foster was allowed to go home and visit her family only once. She was glad to get into civilian clothes for a while and had a great time back home. She ate chicken and dumplings. The Navy kept her so busy she did not have much time to think about being lonely. The biggest change from civilian to military life was learning to wake up, get dressed, and eat by seven in the morning. She began to enjoy her time in the Navy when she started making friends and began to see her job as being worthwhile. Foster was on base in San Francisco [Annotator's Note: San Francisco, California] when news of the German surrender reached her [Annotator's Note: 8 May 1945]. The base was placed on lockdown because the civilians were going wild in celebration. She could not join them and there was not much of a party on the base. The same was true for VJ-Day [Annotator's Note: Victory Over Japan Day, 15 August 1945] in August. After VJ-Day Foster felt like her world had been flipped upside down again. She was unsure of what to do with herself. She feels good about the victory and her small part in it. The Navy began discharging the women as fast as possible. She was discharged with the rank of Aviation Machinist Mate, 2nd Class. She had to adjust to civilian life again because she was used to a strict military routine. She did not take advantage of any G.I. Bill [Annotator's Note: the G.I. Bill, or Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, was enacted by the United States Congress to aid United States veterans of World War 2 in transitioning back to civilian life and included financial aid for education, mortgages, business starts and unemployment] benefits. Her husband did.


Mrs. P.A. "Tippy" Foster's most memorable experience of World War 2 was hearing the news of Pearl Harbor [Annotator's Note: The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941]. She thought to herself, "How dare they do that to America?" She served in World War 2 because she did not like it that someone attacked the United States. She believes the war made her more appreciative of her country and proud to be an American. She is proud that our country won the war and that we are free. She thinks America does not know much about World War 2. Some people may be appreciative that people put their lives on the line against the Germans and Japanese. She believes there should be institutions like the National WWII Museum [Annotator's Note: The National WWII Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana], and they should continue to teach World War 2 to future generations because it can happen again. The country should stay militarily strong.

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