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Foster Vandevander
Soldiers of the Great War

West Virginia Veterans Memorial

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Foster Vandevander
1899-1918

"He is gone but his life was not lived in vain; he has left a heritage to his family that is more precious than any on earth—a life of devotion and honor. . . . "

From a tribute to Foster Vandevander, source unknown

Foster Vandevander was born on January 3, 1899, at Circleville in Pendleton County, West Virginia. He was the son of Charles Lee Vandevander and Nancy Mauzy Vandevander. His father served as a justice of the peace in Pendleton County. Three of Foster’s siblings, Jesse, Carrie, and Kate, died during early childhood. His remaining sister, Bessie Lee, was born on July 9, 1904. She married Leslie Thompson, and she died at Charleston, West Virginia, at the age of 96. It was Bessie who first submitted information about Foster so that his name might be carved on the West Virginia Veterans Memorial.

According to Bessie Thompson, Foster was sworn into service on April 20, 1917. He was sent to Eagle Pass, Texas, and later transferred to Syracuse, New York, and subsequently to Camp Merritt, New Jersey. Army Cpl. Foster Vandevander became a member of the 111th Infantry Regiment. The 111th and 112th Infantry Regiments made up the 56th Infantry Brigade. The 55th and 56th Infantry Brigades made up the 28th Army Division.

A tribute to Foster, apparently written for a family genealogy but of an unknown source, had this to say about his entrance into the service:

When the war clouds commenced to gather over this fair land of ours, answering the call that only the choice spirits of this world know, Foster, though but 18 years old, secured the consent of his father and was one of the very first to volunteer in the cause of God and humanity.

It was in April 1917, when all nature was rejoicing, he marched away, carrying the love and hopes of father, mother, sister and grandmother, and the prayers of the little village that had been his home from infancy. Only once after for a few short days was he allowed to visit home, friends and loved ones, to prepare as it were for the sacrifice.

The United States had entered World War I on April 6, 1917, nearly three years after the beginning of the conflict. The 28th Army Division arrived in Europe in May 1918 to begin training with British forces. By mid-July the division took up positions to form a second line of defense south of the Marne River and east of Chateau-Thierry. The Germans immediately brought on an attack with fierce artillery bombardment in what was to become known as the Battle of Chateau-Thierry. Bitter hand-to-hand combat ensued, and the 28th soundly defeated the enemy. At the conclusion of the battle, General John Pershing, the supreme commander of the American Expeditionary Force, declared that the men of the 28th were “Men of Iron,” and the 28th Division became known as Pershing’s “Iron Division.”

On November 9, 1917, Foster corresponded with a Mr. Calhoun, who had inquired about his whereabouts. He wrote:

I received your most welcome letter and was real glad to hear from you. You [wanted] to know my enlistment and moves. I enlisted at Cumberland Md. and was sent to Columbus Ohio and was sworn to the service from there I was sent to Egle Pass Texas to the 30th Inf. And from Egle Pass Tex I was sent to Syracuse N. Y. and was there for a while. And I transferred to the 38th Inf. And from the 38th I was transferred to the 49th Inf. Co. L and was sent to Camp Merritt, Tenafly, New Jersey. If there are any more you want to know let me know I will tell you. I will tell you I was sworn in the 20th day of April at Columbus Ohio. I will close for this time good [unreadable] from your friend Foster

On September 26, 1918, the Meuse-Argonne offensive was begun by the Allied Expeditionary Forces in what was to become the greatest American battle of World War I. During the six weeks’ confrontation, 27,277 were killed and 95,786 were wounded. The objective of this campaign was to repel the Germans eastward from the Hindenburg Line to deny them access to important rail lines which were supplying the German front. Thirty-seven French and U.S. divisions were opposed by 24 German divisions. By early October the German Army was exhausted, demoralized, and plagued with an influenza outbreak.

Several soldiers became victims of pneumonia and the widespread influenza epidemic of 1918. Cpl. Foster Vandevander died of pneumonia on October 14, 1918, at Vaubecourt, France, during the Meuse-Argonne offensive, just one month before the Armistice was signed ending the war. Foster was initially buried at the American Cemetery, Vaubecourt, France.

In a letter to Charles Vandevander regarding Foster’s original burial site, Lt. Col. Charles C. Pierce of the Office of the Chief Quartermaster, American Expeditionary Force, writes:

I am sure that you will pardon the use of a form letter such as we are sending to-day, when you try to realize under what great stress this office is working in order to give as prompt advice as possible concerning facts which are of such very vital importance to our sorrowing friends, whose brave men have suffered martyrdom on battle-fields within our sphere of European operation.

It is with great sorrow that I am writing to you, and only the urgency of your desire to know, prompts me to push forward this notification when my note is required to be so formal because of the great number to which my name has to be signed.

You have probably already received official advice concerning the death of the one whom you gave to your country and the world for the saving of civilization.

You will be comforted in knowing that his body has been recovered, that it lies buried in a spot which is under our care and control, and that there will be no danger of its loss or neglect.

At a later date, his remains were returned to the U.S. and he was re-interred in Arlington National Cemetery, Section 18, which is known as the Euro Site.
Vandevander marker

Marker for Cpl. Foster Vandevander, Arlington National Cemetery. (Source: Anne Cady, “Foster Vandevander,” Find A Grave, accessed 22 Sept. 2014, http://www.findagrave.com, used with permission)

Note the irregular spelling of his surname in Soldiers of the Great War.

Article prepared by Leon Armentrout, with editorial assistance from Patricia Richards McClure

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Foster Vandevander

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