An interview with Peter Foster


Material Information

An interview with Peter Foster
Physical Description:
75 minutes
Peter Foster
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Panama Canal


General Note:
Interviewed by Candice Ellis

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
PCM 030 Peter Foster 7-7-2011
PCM 030
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Full Text


The Foundation for The Gator Nation An Equal Opportunity Institution Samuel Proctor Oral History Program College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Program Director : Dr. Paul Ortiz Office Manager : Tamarra Jenkins Technology Coordinator : Deborah Hendrix 241 Pugh Hall PO Box 115215 Gainesville, FL 32611 352 392 7168 Phone 352 846 1983 Fax The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP) was founded by Dr. Samuel Proctor at the University of Florida in 1967. Its original projects were collections centered around Florida history with the purpose of preserving eyewitness accounts of economic, social, political, religious and intellectual life in Florida and the South In the 45 years since its inception, SPOHP has collected over 5,000 interviews in its archives. Transcribed interviews are available through SPOHP for use by research scholars, students, journalists, and other interested groups. Material is frequently used for theses, dissertations, articles, books, documentaries, museum displays, and a variety of other public uses. As standard oral history practice dictates, SPOHP recommends that researchers refer to both the transcript and audio of an interview when c onducting their work. A selection of interviews are available online here through the UF Digital Collections and the UF Smathers Library system. Oral history interview transcripts available on the UF Digital Collections may be in draft or final format. SP OHP transcribers create interview transcripts by listen ing to the original oral history interview recording and typing a verbatim document of it. The transcript is written with careful attention to reflect original grammar and word choice of each interview ee; subjective or editorial changes are not made to their speech. The draft trans cript can also later undergo a later final edit to ensure accuracy in spelling and format I nterviewees can also provide their own spelling corrections SPOHP transcribers ref er to the Merriam program specific transcribing style guide, accessible For more information about SPOHP, visit or call the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program office at 352 392 7168. October 2013


PCM 030 Interviewee: Pete Foster Interviewer: Candice Ellis Date: July 7 th 2011 E: This is Candice Ellis and Pete Foster on July 7 th 2011 in Orlando at the Panama Canal reunion, talking about living in the Panama Canal Zone. So usually where I like to start is right at the beginning: how you came to be in the zone or how your family came to be in the zone? F: speak? E: Yep go ahead. F: first to get to the zone. My mom and dad, they we re born in Cayman, the Cayman Islands and they were British subjects. And my dad was a sea captain that had licenses for both the square rigors and the steam. To give you a little information on the islands that Islands, there is three islands and the middle island is was discovered mainly by shipwrecks ships and the middle island was in the initial stages of its discovery and all divided up by in to five sections that were whatever sea captain discovered kind of stayed there. They laid their portion of land on there. My great, great, great, great, great grandfather was a sea caption whose ship hit the island and had a shipwreck. So his portion of t he island was called the Bluff, which was 800 foot high bluff that went almost the whole length of the island and in old maps you and and from there my dad became a sea captain also. But during that time, the time that my


PCM 030; Foster; Page 3 mom nts w ere killed or were washed away in the tid al wave that hit the island, my mom survived and her uncle and aunt that lived in Mobile, Alabama at primary port, he becam e a sea captain of a cargo ship that plied between the United States and South America. And these group of Caymanians that were in Mobile were my mom and dad me t each other. They did not know each other on the island but they met in Mobile, Alabama. They b oth became naturalized US citizens. When my dad of course going in his ships, he was taking his ships between the United States and South America and in those days too for cargo ships the sea captain took his family with him if he wanted t o. My oldest br other w as born in Mobile and my dad had a voyage to take cargo down to Ecuador. When they were going through the canal, he stopped at the canal cause he had to go down the Atlantic and then cross over to the Pacific to get to Ecuad or. So at the Canal Zone when gettin g ready to go through the locks he had to stop at Cristobal, which is on the port on the Atlantic side to refuel And refueling I guess was a slow process in those days. We are going back to 1929 and the crash came. The crash came in the states and the company owning, that owned the ship that my dad was captain on could not be moved because a law suit litigation started. He had to stay with the ship and it the litigation and all that sort of stuff. So after th ree years, well in [19] 29 at the same time I was born in 1929 and my mom then they got an apartment in Coln which is the Panamanian Atlantic city and it is the second largest city in Panama.


PCM 030; Foster; Page 3 If you were born in Coln, in those days I had to be registered in the US embassy and all that sort of stuff. They wanted to make sure that later on in years I would be recognized as a US citizen. After that, after livin g in Coln for about three years, remember 1935, the litigation was over and my dad cou ld lea ve in the ship alone. So he had to get a job and he got a job on the Gatun locks. At that time, of course the C anal furnished homes for their employees and the Pan ama Canal problem when they built the canal a major portion of their working employees were West Indian. So when they hired my dad, the whether to put him on as a U S citizen or something different, a non U S citizen to put it that way. No w they were used to mostly colored people working and they called those the non U S citizens. And in that time they had established a payment way of designating whe ther you were a United States citizen or whether you were a non United States citizen. They calle d the United States citizen s the Gold R oll and they were paid in gold and U S dollars. The non U S citizens were on the silver roll and they were paid the lo cal salary. Since there was some kind of discussion on it, they let us live in the gold section, the US section, but only near the railroad tracks. E: Oh my goodness, so there was some discrimination there. Definitely. F: Actually yes. We had a French co uple that also was hired by the canal and they lived on the non U S side of the railroad tracks. So we lived on the U S side but we had to stay close to the edge of the town.


PCM 030; Foster; Page 4 E: So the discrimination was based more on citizenship that you know. Cause i f cause you were not F: Right. E: O F: I found that of course his pay scale was lower than his other U S friends and all. And I went to U S schools there and Gatun and all, and a surprising thing about it is that even during Christmas time the people in the town, in Gatun would give us bags of food. I guess they felt sorry for us. E: Aww. Was it difficult growing up for that reason? Was there discrimination a gainst you, did you guys ever struggle financially? F: I guess my parents had to struggle a little financially. My dad also bought a boat and he on his non w ork days he would take the boat and he had two help er s on the boat that would go up to some of the islands and fill their barge with sand and come back for them to have sand build the houses with the cement and all So he made up the difference in pay through his own little business too. But they treated me, the kids there was no difference. Parents, n some old Southern people, we had a little bit of a difference there. There were two sides. I guess the ones from the north and all, there was no difference. The south, Southerners were a little E: Really? So there was detectable te nsion with that? Does anything stand out in particular? Any one experience or just the way they treated you?


PCM 030; Foster; Page 5 F: No, just the way they treated me. We had the commis saries produce store was, everything was run by th e US government, by the Panama Canal C ompany. In Gatun where we lived, their commissary was divided into two portions. It was a two story build and the second floor was of course the G old Roll they called it, the Gold S id e. And the first floor was the Silver R oll and they did not use cash in purchasing. What you did, at the beginning of each month you told them how much you wanted issued and cut what they called commissary books. And they h ad strips of one penny each and you buy a fifteen dollar commissary book or a five dollar on e, and it went like that. And when you through the line to pay the cashier they would tear off the amoun t of strips and some of the cashiers were outstanding. They would take that thing and fall down E: How did they count that? F: But they did. B ecause of the confusion of some p eople not wanting to recognize, I guess the headquarters did not want to recognize us as equal U S citizens t hey decided just to protect themselves I guess W e, my mom and dad could buy either gold or silver commissary books. So what they would do is of course on the silver ro ll, they had some foods a lot cheaper in the first than it was in the second floor. The meats were different kinds of meats and all. In a really upscale b utc But in the silver roll they commissary they had the l ower cost meats and all and tripe was one of them with things like that. My mom would buy whatever she thought was better and cheaper in either


PCM 030; Foster; Page 6 commissary. But for me the way I got along, it was being by the railroad track, and later on in our tim e in Gatun, we moved. D own at the very bottom of the road and the hill, they had what they called the Coral, and that was the mode of transportation today. But in those days they still used horse drawn buggies to transfer to work and load and all that sort of stuff And at the bottom they had one cottage, why they built cottage colored town which was a silver town. In those days we called them colored, but in the colored town they were nice. They were okay. And that, for me, it was I guess being a kid an d all it was fun. But in order to have money also, since my mom and dad I would go into the bush in there and during the construction of the canal the little workers they would build themselves a house and they would have a garden. And in the garden, some of them grew pineapple and various limes and various things. I decided that I might be able to get by, by selling these high class Americans and hunt for a lime tree patch a nd then I w ould sell a bag about a dozen limes per bag and sell it for te n cents each. Go to the commissary and they would purchase these limes from me. And they had another plant, they called Kapok, Kapok was the cotton used in those days. It was very similar to cotton balls, but it grew on a tree rather than the way true cott on is. And when they were blooming, I would get those and the women in the town would use the Kapok for filling the


PCM 030; Foster; Page 7 cushions in their house. And also the Kapok was used for light preserve r s, the folium light preservers case. E: You sound like a very young enterprising business man. F: Yeah and t he pineapples would be another thing that I would get. But the main thing about that for me was that th e colored people would tell me, Pete up over the re is a patch ready for you to pick. And then, Pete, Kapok is out now. And they would E: And about how old were you doing this ? F: I was doing that from the third grade until t he sixth grade. Actually the other thing started when I was ab out seven years old, I took boxing lessons. And they would have children boxing on M onday nights in the clubhouse a nd if you won, you got two tickets to the movies. E: Good deal. F: So I made it a point that every Monday I would box for my two tickets to go the movies. And of cours e I made sure that I won. I was very good at it. Then I decided that if I called bingo for them I n those days they had b ingo, they had bingo the amplifiers and the mic rophone s a nd all that sort of stuff d ollar to call bingo, it was a bout a two hour job and after bingo at the clubhouse, cream there. The way they handled is that th ey would have a ticket, marked five, ten fifteen twenty up to a dollar. And the waiter would then punch the amount of


PCM 030; Foster; Page 8 ashier and pay. So I would get a K lim shake. I do now what K lim was? Klim is milk backwards. E: (laughs) O kay. F: Okay. And it was a powdered fresh milk for cereals and all. They used K lim. In fact I found th ey still sell it in countries in Central A t a K lim shake, hot roast beef sandwich and french fries for twenty five cents. E: Wow. Good deal. F: It might have cost more but t he waiters were all on the silver roll, they were colored. And they lived across the border; some of them li ved close by me. And I never paid more than twenty five cents for anything, because they would always have som e tickets to give me for twenty five cents. A nd they would only punch twenty five cents in my tickets. T hat was good. E: Y eah, y uminated this interesting race dynamic in the area. And we perceive it old a different story I guess. Just t he business with the railroad through, so in a broader sense what growing up the state of the race relations were and was there the heavy tension that there were with the southerners who were in the zone. Was there any violence or issues? F: No.


PCM 030; Foster; Page 9 E: Yeah. F: They accepted it the way it is. I had friends maybe the father was a U S citizen that married a Panamanian girl. Some of my friends that I went to school with, that I grew up with, were Panamanians. They were U S citizens because their parents were US citizens. But only one side of the family had to be a U S citizen Panamanian and the father is U S and the child is born between the two of them and they grow up together T h e hidden discrimina tion is that a good example that I would have is that when you put in to move t o a house within the Canal Zone you were assigned a hous e according to your job If you are on the gold roll, you had the authority to live in the U S towns basically. B ut und er that same category, if a father is on the gold roll but married to a Panamanian and the children are U S citizens, they would go to school with me and all that sort of stuff. When it came to assigning house s it wa s typically a service assignment. If yo u had worked in the Canal one year more than one person putting in for the same house, the one with the most service would get the with the U S citizen and Panamanian, they would give the assignment to the both pa rents that are U S citizens. E: What was the quality of the housing lik e throughout the Z one? F: The houses, when I was growing up, they still had the old, what we call the old French Quarters that were for families still there in Balboa it was there. In Gatun Gatun was a newer part of the town. When they started to build the third s et of


PCM 030; Foster; Page 10 locks, right during and after W orld W ar II, they considered those employees working on special engineering projects SIPers is what we called them E: Okay, SIP F: For t hem they had to build those towns real fast. So they built twelve families in on e building And of co urse the houses were not double walled between apartm ents. If you flushed the toilet in your bathroom the other neighbor next to you can hear and they it would be a straight through where them were scree ned in, and they were all wood, a nd of course they were on stilts. All of the houses in those days were on stilts a metal protection around the top of the post or the stilts painted with some kind of creosote to stop creatures from going into your house. E: Did you remain in the same house most of the time you were there or did you m ove around? F: No I lived in every town except Pedro Miguel. I lived in Ancn, we had a house in where is started from and they had old Cristobal. Cristobal is where th e ports were and then they h ad N ew Cristobal. New Cristobal was a complete Pan ama Canal town under the jurisdi ction of the Panamanian so o ur police were Panamanians. But even the p rimary h otel for the Atlantic side built by the C anal was in that area. Of course t hey had the most beau tiful saltwater pool that I grew up with E: Oh I can imagine.


PCM 030; Foster; Page 11 F: And right next to ti was Fort De Lesseps in which they had sixteen inch canons that were to protect the breakwater from any attack. Ba sically, I guess the houses in N ew Cristobal were olde r but they had cottages and dup lexes and up and downs, up down was a duplex with two floors. They also had four families and two families, some two families were the whole bottom almost built similarly to a four family and then another family up above. E : What high school did you go to? F: I went to both. E: Both of them. F : I went to Cristobal High School and in my sophomore year my parents were transferred to Gamboa. They recognized my parents as equal U S citizens shortly after the war. Simply because when they started to have their military coming back, some of them were naturalized U S discriminate against their own military coming back. And so right after the war, they were instructed to recognize all naturalized U S citizens as equal. So they immedia icen se and he was put on a tugboat now? E : What year did you gradu ate high school? F: [19] 47 Cristobal High School. My so phomore year they went to Gamboa a nd to get to Bal boa High S chool you had to take the train there had no good road. And so the kids in Gamboa would take a train to Balboa High School. The elementary


PCM 030; Foster; Page 12 schools, each town their own elementary school, high school was Balboa or Cristobal. I started out in Cristobal High School. My parents were transferred to Gamboa and in my s ophomore year I went to Balboa High S chool. But I had a little difference of opin ion with the principal. E: Uh oh. F: O r he had a difference of opinion with me. There was one teacher, the first week that I went over there, a Spanish teacher. I made the mist ake of correcting her Spanish a nd she sent me down to the office, to the princ ipal. And that was th e first week. And of course I got a lecture from the principal and then they sent me back to the room. And then the next day I was still unfamiliar with high school and I was about twenty seconds or thirty seconds late for class. She s ent me down to the principal. An d it became a game with me, I figured okay well the next ut then the next one I would slow down and all of a sudden and wait until the bell rang ook at my watch and step in And finally about half way through the year, and of course I got along fine with all the other teachers, but the principal lost his temper. And when he lost his temper I through an ink well at him. E: An ink well. F: In those days your pens, you dipped it ink. E: And you threw that at the principal? F: Yep and i t left him with a little mark. E: Oh my goodness. So were you kicked out of the school?


PCM 030; Foster; Page 13 F: aused the proble m. But he said, Pete how in the heck can I get rid of you? And I said, well, E sser all you have to do is i n Gamboa, Gamboa was in the middle of the zone area. So the Panama R ailroad train going to Balboa would meet with the train going to Cristobal. So I said, well look it, I want to Cristobal, you want me to go to Cristobal. Just talk the m into giving me a pass Because we ha d school passes for the train. Giv e me a pass instead to go into Balboa, get me a pass to go in to Cristoba l. And I said ee me in this building for years. And he said, is that all you need? I said see you next year because But I had to take the train every morning to Cristobal and then walk through Col n and walk through the town to Cristobal High S chool. And when I left Cristobal, I left it under goo d terms with all the teachers so t hey made sure the principal, it was Ho t e s at that time, ma de sure that all my days classes were the first class was a study h all. So that would give me time to get to the school. Of course then I was voted as class p resident both junior year and senior year. And I did all right and I graduated in a half year I h ad so many credits. But that was my Balboa but it was nice because then we, living in Gamboa I could bring my Cristobal friends, when they had a party of anything like that I could bring my Cristobal friends over and they knew me and they would bring the ir Balboa friends. And so w hat it did was it gave them a group of students that interm ingled and we knew each


PCM 030; Foster; Page 1 4 other and s o when the games were going and all afterwards it was just a big friendly. E: Yea h no harsh feelings. F: No harsh feelings or anything like that. E: Did you play any sports? F: I started to but when I got too involved with being class president and all. When I was going by the train I could freshma n a nd when I became a junior the eleventh year I started baseball in track. I did their track for a while. But I g ot too involved, not only with E: Student government F: The s tudent government but I also got involved with my wife. E: Oh, i s that when you guys met in high school? F: Yep w e went together from junior year to last year, s he passed away. E: F: Yeah it s 63 years of marriage. E: F: And two years in high school. We were teenagers that matured together into adulthood. E: F: After I graduated, I graduated in January rather than in June because of my credits.


PCM 030; Foster; Page 15 E: You graduated early because you had all the cre dits. What was it like going to high school during W orld W ar II? W hen that was happening overseas what was the Z one like? F: The Zone a t that time when Pearl H arbor was hit and then on the eleventh they went to Germany. T hey declared war on Germany on th e eleventh of December. And actually my wife left the United States, in 1941 they packed. Her father got a job in the Canal and so they packed up on December 7 and left. They were headed for Panama Canal on the Panama Canal ships, they had three ships. And l eft on the P anama Canal Ships on December eleventh and arrived five days later in the Z one, but they wer e all under black. On December seventh not only is that Pearl Harbor day, anyway getting ba ck to that, the Canal had a feeling that we were going to go to war. When Pearl Harbor was hit there was a rumor, and it was probably true that the Japanese had subs headed for the Canal. And i mmediately we had black out s at night. All th e car light s the y would have a one inch stri p of masking tape on the headlights and paint the rest black and then take it off s o all you had was that little strip. E: That little, mhmm F: Yeah and then t he towns had smoke pots placed in various locations. Now the se smoke pots we re about this high and the stack going up was about like that E: So about four feet high.


PCM 030; Foster; Page 16 F: Yeah and the big bowl here that had black oil in it and when they lit them of course what that would do, they would put a layer of black smoke o ver the town and also over the Canal. And the Canal they had lines every hundred feet or five W orld W ar II movies in England they would have these blimps or balloons up there that were shaped. Well t hey were smaller than the Good Year blimp, they were about one third or one quarter the size but they had those o n cables up floating above the C an al right down the strip of the Canal and t hat was for air planes taken. In those days you jet pr opelled ai rplanes and they could go real low and all. And then my backyard was a gunning placement, anti aircraft gun placement soldiers would come. And of course w big dish of arroz con p ollo or spaghetti and take it down to their tents. But they had those strategically placed around the town. And then they built, every town had bomb shelt ers to go to. They built two or three bomb shelters that were a small roo m I would say about the same size as that darker part of the wall. E: Mhmm. F: A nd the walls were about a good two feet thick of cement and that would be our bomb shelter if they came. And then o n the break water entering the Canal on the Atlantic side o f course they had a lot of Ge rman subs that were out there and the break water would be a bunch of block s or whatever closing the bay so t he ships could only pass through this And that area there had submarine nets


PCM 030; Foster; Page 17 the big wired nets with the diameter would be about one foot in diam eter to catch the subs and whatever that would enter in. In fact when I got of school finally, the first job I had with the military was net depot where the y made the nets and all. E: And these nets were metallic, made out of wire? F: Yeah they were made out of w ell the wire w as about twice the size of this E: Of this cord. F: Yeah and it was woven up to about maybe three quarters of an inch in diameter all the way around and they would intertwine those like that. E: Did you guys ever catch a submarine? F: No they never came in that close because they also had on the Atlantic side we had Coco Solo and Coco Solo was a submarine base in addition to a seaplane b ase. So your sea planes were the PBMs and PBYs, they were th e hurricane hunters. They would go out and fly around the area to ch eck on it. W about two or three s cares. But throughout the canal they had these big smoke pots and all. E: Were those lit often or no? F: No they only had to light them, only I wo uld say no more than maybe four times. But they were all alert and o f course they put up air sirens in every town and all. E: What year did you say t hat you left the zone just so I F: I left in [19] 82. E: 1982. Okay so you were for the [19]64 riots, the [19]59 and [19]64. F: You bet, you bet.


PCM 030; Foster; Page 18 E: Yeah? F: That was on the Atlantic side. E: On the Atlantic side. F: I was a technician with the t elephone exchange at that time and we were no more than two hundred and fifty feet away from the border. T he first one that was killed was right outside of our building, the f irst American soldier that was hit. E: Who was that in [19]59 to first ? F: Well the [19] 59 was a different one, this was the [19]64. The [19]59 one was just rioting but no shooting or an y thing like that. E: Okay. F: At that time we still lived in New Crist bal New Cristbal was turned over to Panama in [19] 59. That was ou r high school, the whole town, t he hospital and that was turned over. But at the same time, the Navy had abandoned Coco Solo. and all were refurbished, and we were moved out of New Cristbal to Coco E: Ho w did people feel about New Cristbal being turned over in 1959 Zonians, the Americans? Was there resentment about that kind of building? F: Basically, those of us that were living there did not like it Did not lik e what they did to us. B y that time I had a cottage right across from the high school, a big cottage right across from the high school with a big avocado tree that gave you the best pears i n the world. I had June, she was five. But i t was a nice town. We


PCM 030; Foster; Page 19 got along fine with the Panamanians. Most of our close friends were on the Panamanian side. E: Okay. F: My closest friend who was like a br other, almost closer than my brothers I was the middle one so t was a Swiss. His parents owned a jewelry store and they were Swis s. And Chuck and I, Chuck Pratt and I, the Swiss started our friendship when I was in junior high school. And th en when he graduated and of course he went to school, they sent him to Switzerland to go to school, and he came back married. H is wife was from Lozan ne and she could speak anything but French so m y wife took her under her arm and in three months she was speaking French, I mean she was speaking, she was speaking French all the time, she was speaking English fluently and Spanish fluently. E: Wow. F: It was amazing. E: Yeah the way people pick that up. F: They were like sisters, the two of them. They were very close. E: F: I was in the elevator in this hotel and half way up, and I was in there an hour and forty fi ve minutes about. E: Oh my gosh be cause they lost power? F: Yeah t hey lost power. E: In this hotel?


PCM 030; Foster; Page 20 F: In this hotel. E: When? F: This was when we started, it was back in the l ate eighties or early nineties when we first moved out Yeah and it was one of those that was an express one that when only so many floors E: You had to mm F: And t here was no way to get out. E: Scary. F: No escape. But anyway. E: Yeah so 1964 the big riot and that kind of changes the whole atmosphere. F: In [19]59 the two of us, my wife and I, were the first one s. In Coln during that time they were stopping people, U S people from going into Coln itself. Except for us, t he two of us They were told by the police and the fire department to leave of us alone. And we w ould go down the main street, Eleventh Street and safe passage to visit our friends and all. And after the first week, after that, Panamanians, I guess they called it the 2 0/30 club, y ou had to be in that age group. And that was a Panamanian club and they were having a convention in David, way up in the interior. And they decided they wanted, I had enough of my personal friends and club and they wanted us to go up there with them. And so were the first the Americans back after [19] 59 entering the town.


PCM 030; Foster; Page 21 E: Wow. And they were receptive to you? F: Oh geez Of cours e back in those days you could, oh this gringo now? And a gringa The d refer to my wife as a gringa, hey gringa! You want a Squirt? And t heir favorite drink was Squirt and their special alcohol beverage. E: [laughter] Alright. F: But in the [19] 64 riots the first s oldier was killed. They lined the soldiers up about a hundred feet from us, shoulder length way wi thout any guns without any bullets, and the first one was shot. And then it was changed. I would have to drive at night to get by the town be cause we lived C oco Solo then, i n order to get to work and all. T he sharpshooters for the military were in our building. When they were getting ready to, they had the gas stations were across the street. The Coln gas stations and a pick up would come fill up with gas a nd go and then come back and fill up with gas and that was for making the Molotov cocktails. And so t hey put an end to that real quick. They started to do some of their own sho oting b ut they never used the real bullets. They used the grenades with a gun an d shoot, one of the grenades would go in and bounce and go into the driver seat of the pick up and that is how they would do it. E: F: Yeah and that turned the [19]64 riots. I w as always would tell everybody that be the last person standing and waving goodbye to you all on the docks. But that sort of turned me off.


PCM 030; Foster; Page 22 E: Mhmm. Why did you eventually leave the Canal Zone? F: d. I had 35 years of service. I was head of the telephone system s for the Canal, the whole C anal and I was part of the treaty implementati on on the communications side a nd I had to do a lot of negotiating A nd not only that I had promised them that I would see to it that the whole Ca nal had electronic telephone system s. So all the towns and on the locks and I told them when I he negotiations were hard to take simply because the military wanted to give the kitchen sink aw ay and the state department went al ong with them and of course I would try to stay regards for the state department. I saw to o many secret portions of the treaty that turne d my stomach over. T he head negoti ator f or the canal was in his eightie s. No s and he would approved with Congress so he wai ted until Congress was in recess and then he appointed Linowitz. So Linowitz had six months to be the assistant negotiator, actually he was the negotiat or. And I could say this much t he one in the documents and all, the Linowitz was director of the Marine Midland Bank. Panama owed the Ma rina Midland Bank $362 million dollars and that 362 and the clause in the treaty was that Panama would pay $362 dollars to pay off t heir debt with the Marine Midland Bank. So t he various things they wanted to get rid of IT&T. So the cable between the Unite d States and Panama at those times, the


PCM 030; Foster; Page 23 satellite was just coming in at that time. AT&T had owed the cable from Florida to Jamaica and IT&T owned the cable from Jamaica to Panama. And the way they got rid of IT&T was AT&T would not pass any communicati ons to Panama, so the Panamanian telecommunications so IT&T went out of business. But anyway E: Yeah s o by 1982 you were ready to get out of there? F: Yeah in [19] 82 yeah. I gave them a day and a half notice. E: Oh wow [laughter] F: But I did give them a chance. I told them, by that time they wanted any promotions to be Panamanian and I refused S o I was arguing with my directors b ut I told them I would stay on t he job for six months after I retired provided they let me appoint, pro mote my own man. And they said, chief of the telephone systems E: in the states ? F: Well my mom lived in St. Pete. Th ey retired and went to St. Pete a nd many of their friends were in that area so they settled there. And so my dad had died and my mom was getting up in age, so I felt that she needed support. E: Was it difficult for yo u or your wife to do that, t o relocate and move out of the Z one? F: Yeah because we had so many close friends. She basically, we moved away from the one person that was more of a sister than her sister s were at that time. Later on, her sist er and, well sh e had three sisters. The one in the middle, the


PCM 030; Foster; Page 2 4 one that was two years younger th an my wife, got together and were close, they were real close. E: F: But no i rth anymore [laughter]. E: F: T hey wanted the Americans to take at least every two ye ars to get out of the tropics a nd I practiced that. In fact the first time I ever went to the Unit ed States was with my wife. I had never, of cours e my mom and dad, up un til the la ter part of their working life, they retire. So I went to the States for the first time after I was married an d of course she was from Ohio. But I made it a point every two years we had our vacation. I would save my leave s so t and we would go up and visit friends in Pittsburgh, in Ohio, and my brother lived in Michigan. a point with my kids to, every time we came up we went to another state. So t hey are well versed in the United States. E: Nice yeah. F: we had, our frie nds were more on the Panamanian were Panamanian. Maybe their moth er or father were from Europe. We had a lot of European E: They were not U.S. citizens essentially.


PCM 030; Foster; Page 25 F: Americans married to Panamanians. But we had the culture to give the kids. When I started with the Swiss people I remember I was astounded. The first time they had me for lunch over at their house, of course the natural thing is to pick up a sandwich. They had a ni ce sandwich there so I picked it up to eat. And they looked at me, t you use your fork and knife? E: [laughter] F: fork E: F: And various there was tremendous in the culture and in the food. E: The differences yeah. F: The difference was so big. In those days Swiss colony wines were the only wines that were exported out of the United St ates and they were dessert wine And our American fri ends would drink this dessert wine, w a was a conciliate so he got to once or twice a year they would ship some Swiss wine over and s give us a case of it. But our girls got a chance to have a different culture. E: F: And on top of that, they knew how to drink when they were away from us. E: That responsibility.


PCM 030; Foster; Page 26 F: The responsibility. E: The maturity. F: Well so many of th e kids drink to get drunk. And we drink to enjoy the taste. It might me a little glass of Manhattan might take me a half an hour before I can finish that little glass because. And our kids with the wine and all, our kids were nd only drink so much and enjoy, i E: Yeah good lesson F: The way my mom and dad started was that they would go to lunch and of course we are going back to the thirties. We would go to the lounge or bar whatever you want to call it, and if they had a child with them and they ordered there with their meal, the child always got what they called a pony. Just a little, about two ounces at the most. But the child, they always bro ught a pony for the like beer. Up until about twenty years ago, I started actually drinking beer when I was a coppersmith apprentice. E: Okay. now that they are going to need to use this room in a couple of minutes, let me check the time. F: Okay. E: I know t F: Very good.


PCM 030; Foster; Page 27 E: So maybe just a closing thought you could tell me your thoughts and feelings and opinions ab out the U S turnover of the Canal Zone doing with it now. F: Al right the turnover of the Canal Zone actually I knew a lot of the Panamanian politicians. T hey started out as all they wanted was, right at that time, Panama was be ing paid $250,000 a year for the use if the And that changed, all Panama wanted because in Spain U S was paying $20 million a year and they wanted to be equal. And instead they gave them the C anal and paid them the ticket. The U S ., I think, did the U S wrong S t E: F: But ly of Carter. When he came down he made sure that he would stay in the military base. The military were commanded to be in civi lian et an y Panama Canal people, except the higher ups, on the base in order to se e Carter. E: Alright w [End of Interview] Transcribed by: Genesis Lara, November 26, 2013 Audit Edited by: Liz Gray, January 13, 2014

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