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Hugh Foster

Maj. Gen. Hugh Foster
U.S. Army, II Corps
4th Infantry Division
4th Signal Company
European Theater


Tuesday, March 19th, 2002
RADAR ~ Spelled Backwards

Major General Hugh F. Foster, Jr. (Ret.) will talk about his broad military experience with communications as a Signal Corps officer. (Including Radar and training Comanche Indians as Code Talkers.)

The Doylestown Township retired Army officer worked with Indian servicemen to translate military terms to unique words. The secret vocabulary came in handy after D-Day when 14 of the Comanches were among the Allied troops who landed in Normandy. Known as "code talkers," the Indians used their language to relay verbal messages over field telephones between battlefield and divisional headquarters. Even if they intercepted the calls, the Germans could not figure out what was said.

After WWII, he had a varied Army career that included teaching electrical engineering at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, overseeing electronics research, developing a data processing system and
commanding the 1st Signal Brigadde for a year in Vietnam. Promoted to major general, he retired as commander of Fort Monmouth, NJ in 1975.


Wednesday, July 5, 2000
WWII Comanche code helped foil enemy
By Edward Levenson
Philly Burbs Staff Writer


A Doylestown Township retired Army officer worked with Indian servicemen to translated military terms to unique words. The secret vocabulary came in handy after D-Day

DOYLESTOWN TWP. —On the eve of World War II, 2nd Lt. Hugh F. Foster Jr. faced a challenge he never imagined during his four years at the U.S. Military Academy.

The new West Point graduate had to find a way to translate modern military terms such as tank and bomber into the language spoken by the Comanche Indians of Oklahoma.

Foster, an officer in the 4th Signal Co. of the 4th Infantry Division, worked in the fall of 1941 with a group of 17 Comanche Indians who were members of the company. Foster compiled a list of 250 key military terms and explained them to the Comanches, who came up with translations in their unique language. Training sessions were held three days a week for several months.

Thus, tank became "Wah-kah-ray" (turtle in Comanche) and hospital became "Nat-su Kah-nee" (sick house), according to a glossary kept by Foster, now an 82-year-old retired Army major general who lives in Doylestown Township.

The Comanches had a native word for airplane, but could not distinguish among fighters, bombers and other types. The tribe members huddled and decided upon "Who-chew-no-ah Vuk-kuta" (pregnant airplane) for bomber.

The secret vocabulary proved useful after D-Day in June 1944, when 14 of the Comanches were among the Allied troops who landed in Normandy. They laid telephone lines and performed other communications duties.

Known as "code talkers," the Indians used their language to relay verbal messages over field telephones between the battlefield and divisional headquarters. Even if they intercepted the calls, the Germans could not figure out what was said.

"It was sort of like a communications first-aid kit," said Foster, who left the Comanche soldiers after the initial training and served as a Signal Corps officer in North Africa in 1943 and in Italy in 1944 and 1945.

He noted that encoding machines were used to send written messages between headquarters and field commanders, but the code talkers were invaluable for quick verbal communication on the battlefield.

"They were a resource that was available. When things got tough and we needed to transmit a message in a hurry, you could be sure the Germans would not interpret" a message in Comanche.

While the Comanches provided this service in the European theater, a much larger of contingent of approximately 450 Navajo soldiers did the same thing for the Marine Corps in the Pacific theater.

Foster, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., said he knew nothing about Comanches when his commanding officer assigned him in September 1941 to train the Indians as code talkers at Fort Benning, Ga. The Signal Corps' primary duty was setting up and maintaining Army communications, including telephone, radio and even carrier pigeons.

Because there is no written Comanche language, Foster would write down a phonetic version of each Comanche term in a pocket notebook he carried with him. The Indians memorized the vocabulary, which could not be understood by other Comanches.

If Comanches needed to give a place name, they would spell it out by using a Comanche word for each letter. Any word would do as long as the English translation began with the corresponding letter. For example, for "T", the code talkers might use the word for "tomato."

Foster had no contact with the code talkers after he transferred out of the 4th Signal Co. in February 1942.

After World War II, he had a varied Army career that included teaching electrical engineering at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, overseeing electronics research, developing a data processing system and commanding the 1st Signal Brigade for a year in Vietnam. Promoted to major general, he retired as commander of Fort Monmouth, N.J., in 1975.

In 1989, Foster was invited by one of the surviving code talkers, Forrest Kassanavoid, to attend a Comanche Indian war dance ceremony in Oklahoma.

"I was really floored they remembered me," Foster said. He and his wife, Mary Jane, a former Army nurse he married in 1946, were treated as honored guests.

Kassanavoid "adopted" Foster as a member of the tribe and gave him the name "Poo-ee-whee-tay kwop Eksah-bah-nah," which translates as "Telephone Red Sash." This refers to Foster's service in the Signal Corps and to the red sashes worn by U.S. Army officers stationed in the West during the late 1800s.

Foster has returned a half-dozen times to the Comanche nation. The Indians have given him special mementos, including a handmade arrow, a war-dance fan and custom moccasins.When the National Cryptologic Museum at Fort George G. Meade, Md., set up an exhibit in the 1990s honoring all Indian code talkers, Foster provided information and re-created his phonetic notebook, the original of which had been discarded after the war.

The last surviving Comanche code talker, Charles Chibitty, 78, was honored at a Pentagon ceremony last fall with the Army's Knowlton Award, recognizing his contributions to military intelligence

Foster said it is ironic the Comanches served their country as code talkers. He noted the Indians had been forbidden to speak their language as students at Haskell Indian School in Kansas and were punished if they did.

The Comanches used their imagination to come up with vividly descriptive terms.

They even referred to Adolf Hitler as "Po-sah-tie-vaw." That means "crazy white man."