Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ora Foster's Fifteen Minutes

Once upon a time, there was a young man from the Rochester-Pontiac area named Ora Archie Foster. When he was 21 years old, he left his work as a welder and enlisted in the U.S. Army just a couple of weeks before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Ora advanced quickly from private to corporal, and was sent to England, where he would serve as a member of the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

On a September day in 1942, Ora Foster found himself traveling on foot through the countryside in Gloucestershire, England, when he decided to hitch a ride from a passing automobile. Apparently he did not consider, as any of us would today, that such an act might get him into considerable trouble or danger. Instead, he accepted a ride from two pleasant ladies in a large automobile and spent about forty-five minutes in their company, entertaining them with a constant stream of chatter, and commenting about his host country that "there's no place like home, but this is a nice place for a vacation." When he reached the end of his journey and thanked his hostess for the ride, she said to him,"You don't know who I am, do you?"

Cpl. Foster recalled that he could have been "knocked over with a feather" when his traveling companion identified herself as the Queen Mother, Mary, widow of the late King George V and mother of the reigning monarch, King George VI. Ora Foster's story made international news a few days later. His encounter was reported in the New York Times under the headline "The Private and the Queen," and he rated a mention in the "People" column of Time Magazine in the September 14, 1942 issue.

The New York Times account claimed that Foster was from Rochester, Michigan, but other accounts identified his home as Pontiac. I don't know which is accurate, but Ora Foster lived in Lake Orion after the war and was employed by Fisher Body for 30 years. He died in 1998 and is buried in Ottawa Park Cemetery in Waterford Township. His obituary mentioned his military service in World War II but omits any mention of his friendly chat with the Queen Mother.

A photo of Ora Foster is included in this news story from the St. Petersburg Times.

1 comment:

  1. Gari Foster MonroeMay 28, 2013 at 7:40 PM

    Thank you for the great article about my dad. I have some of the newspaper accounts of this and also a good luck medal that she presented to him. It is quarter size with her initials, M R (Mary Regina). He loved God, family and his country and is greatly missed. Gari Foster Monroe.