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Retired faculty member continues to publish

From left: Jay Schofield, Herb Foster and Tom Dresser each holding a copy of Martha's Vineyard in World War

Herb Foster (center) and co-authors Jay Schofield (left) and Tom Dresser hold copies of their book at a recent book signing on Martha's Vineyard. Photo: Alison Mead for the Vineyard Gazette

By SUE WUETCHER

Published July 10, 2014

“My problem is deciding what to do when I wake up every morning.”
Herb Foster, Retired UB faculty member

Herb Foster is living the good life on Martha’s Vineyard.

The retired UB faculty member leads an active life. He is president emeritus of his synagogue, is serving his third three-year term as an elected trustee of the Edgartown Free Public Library and was a member of the Massachusetts Advisory Council on Libraries. He is active in the Boy Scouts and the local American Legion post, and is a regular participant in the Martha’s Vineyard Oar and Paddle Regatta, usually winning the Honor Award for being the oldest racer to finish the 2.5-mile course.

Foster had been a prolific scholar during his nearly 29 years as a professor in the Department of Learning and Instruction in the Graduate School of Education, publishing numerous articles and a book, “Ribbin’, Jivin’ and Playin’ the Dozens: The Persistent Dilemma in our Schools,” which examines black male street corner language and behavior, and how it plays out in the classroom.

Since his move to the Vineyard in 1998, Foster has written many op-ed pieces for the local newspaper, the Vineyard Gazette, but “I had never written a book here,” he told the UB Reporter during a recent telephone conversation.

He went to a bookstore in Vineyard Haven to check out the books that had been written about Martha’s Vineyard. “Amazingly, nothing had been written about World War II,” he said.

So the 86-year-old World War II veteran sat down last June and wrote a three-page outline. He then contacted Vineyard residents Thomas Dresser and Jay Schofield, both of whom have experience as authors. The three sat down and wrote “Martha’s Vineyard in World War II,” which was published this spring by The History Press.

Through interviews with residents, archived materials and Internet research, the authors tell the story of this small, tightknit island community’s role in World War II.

Readers might be surprised to find that the Vineyard had an active role in the war. Foster offered some interesting facts:

  • President Franklin D. Roosevelt was on the presidential yacht Potomac fishing off Menemsha, on Vineyard Sound, when he left on the Navy cruiser Augusta to meet Winston Churchill at Placentia Bay in Newfoundland to sign the Atlantic Charter in 1941.
  • The island was used by the U.S. military for air and ground training maneuvers. Foster said many of the landing procedures used during the D-Day invasion were developed and honed on the island. In fact, nearly two years before D-Day, the 36th and 45th Infantry divisions staged a dawn exercise to retake the Vineyard from occupying German forces. Many residents watched the exercise from the dunes, cheering on the American forces.
  • The local ferry boats the Naushon and the New Bedford were among 11 New England ferries — four of which were sunk by Germ U-boats — that served as hospital ships during D-Day.
  • Two bunkers were built at Gay Head — now known as Aquinnah — overlooking the Elizabeth Islands across Vineyard Sound that was used to spot German submarines prowling the coastline.
  • A German U-boat commandeered a local fishing boat; the Germans stole all the food and gas on the boat, then sunk it. The story, Foster said, was confirmed by the grandson of the captain of the fishing boat.
  • The Signal Corp. set up an encampment on Peaked Hill.

The authors have been holding book signings at bookstores and other locations across the island. Foster said the book is selling well, and he expects it to become the best-selling book on the island.

The authors have many more stories like these to tell, “enough for a second or third book,” Foster said.

But until that next book is written, Foster continues to keep busy. He said he is working on “Yiddish and Jive in Everyday Life,” a companion book to “Ribbin’, Jivin’ and Playin’ the Dozens.” And he hopes to develop a monthly program for MVTV in which he interviews teachers and school superintendents about issues in education. Foster, who spent 17 years as a teacher and administrator in the New York City Public Schools before joining the UB faculty, hosted a similar program, “Inside Education,” on WBFO-88.7 while he was on the UB faculty.

“My problem,” Foster said, “is deciding what to do when I wake up every morning.”