August 14, 2013

Family to receive WWI soldier’s Distinguished Service Cross certificate – 88 years after it was awarded

The sticky note caught Patti McDonough’s eye.

The sticky note caught Patti McDonough’s eye.

It contained a few names and phone numbers and was attached to the original certificate for a Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s second-highest honor awarded for heroism in combat.

McDonough, of Wichita, recognized her father’s handwriting on the note. That was in May, two months after her father had died.

She had come to Missouri to help her mother go through some of her father’s things and came across a stack of papers. They included awards and honors he had won while serving in the Korean War and as the state commander for Missouri’s American Legion.

But on top of the stack was the slightly yellowed Distinguished Service Cross certificate, awarded to Benjamin E. Foust in 1925 for his heroics during World War I.

“It was sitting very nicely like it was a priority of Dad’s,” McDonough said. “Dad cared for it. He apparently had tried to find its proper place. I wanted to finish that for him.”

And so began a search for Foust’s family that would consume much of this summer and would eventually be completed by Gary and Myrna Rogers of Augusta.

“We wanted to put a face to the name,” Gary Rogers said.

On Saturday, the Rogerses will present the certificate to Foust’s 93-year-old niece Lola Johnson at the 136-year-old family farmstead west of Peculiar, Mo., about 30 miles southeast of Kansas City.

The certificate’s citation credits Foust for “extraordinary heroism” on Sept. 29, 1918, during a battle near Exermont, France.

It also reads in part: “After having one eye shot out, Mechanic Foust refused to avail himself of the opportunity to be evacuated to the rear, but rendered first aid to himself and continued to dress the wounds of his comrades, until a heavy concentration of gas so affected his wounded eye that he was forced to go to the rear. His work was the means of saving the lives of many of his comrades.”

The family of such a man should have a chance to know about those heroics because they never heard it from him. Foust talked very little about the war, his family would later say.

Trying to find Foust’s family wasn’t easy.

He never married. His niece is his closest living relative. She lives on the Johnson family farmstead in Cass County with her son Gerald and his family.

McDonough tried to call the phone numbers on the sticky note but got no answer. The only other clues she had were on the certificate, which gave Foust’s birthplace as Cass County, Mo., and his “home of record” as Augusta.

She was eventually directed to Gary Rogers, commander of the American Legion Post in Augusta. He and his wife then went to work on finding Foust’s family.

“We hit some dead ends,” Gary Rogers said. “But the more we dug into it, the more encouraged we got.”

Augusta apparently was recorded as Foust’s home because that’s where he enlisted on July 12, 1917, according to military records the Rogerses tracked down in Topeka. His occupation was listed as carpenter.

“We were told there was an oil boom around Augusta at the time,” Myrna Rogers said, “so we think he may have been working here as a carpenter building housing for the oil field workers.”

She and her husband struck pay dirt when they checked with the historical society in Cass County, which told them of Lola Johnson. From there, the connection was made.

The Rogerses had the certificate framed for Saturday’s presentation; they also will give Lola Johnson a notebook detailing some history of Foust’s family and military unit.

“It’s quite an honor,” said Lola Johnson, whose father was Foust’s twin. “He’s been gone so long. He was an easy-going old gentleman, easy to get along with.”

Known as Uncle Edgar or Uncle Ben, Foust died at the age of 87 in 1964 and is buried in Cass County. Born in 1877, he was 40 when he joined the Army.

“He told me that he joined because he was hoping he could save a young person from going in,” Gerald Johnson said.

He said he and his mother didn’t even know Foust had been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. His great-uncle didn’t receive his Purple Heart medal until he was in his 80s, he said.

“We had no idea about this,” Gerald Johnson said. “I think it’s an important deal.”

He said he’s not sure if Foust was ever presented with the Distinguished Service Cross medal.

Foust lived with a sister in Arkansas for many years after the war – farming and working as a carpenter – before moving to the Cass County town of Belton.

His war injury left him blind in his right eye.

“I spent a lot of time around him after he moved back,” Gerald Johnson said. “He was a really nice guy, very unassuming. He didn’t talk about the war much.”

As for McDonough and the Rogerses, they’re thankful they can give the family a significant symbol of their uncle’s life.

“The family deserves to have the certificate,” Myrna Rogers said. “It was awarded to someone who fought for the freedom of our country.”

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