by Mary Carole Strother
In June 2023, North Texas lost a true American Patriot and Hero and good friend, Ronnie D. Foster.
RD Foster’s roots ran deep in his love of Texas and Collin County. He was born in Collin County in the town of Farmersville, and when he was 4 years old his family moved to McKinney. As a young boy, he explored the fields of East McKinney along Wilson Creek and the East Fork. The railroad tracks were the highway he used for his explorations. RD’s father was a WWII veteran and his mother worked at the Texas Textile Mill for twenty years. They lived in housing over by the mill and RD would proudly call himself a mill block kid. He and his brothers had a paper route and would deliver papers at 4 am and pick cotton before he would go to school each day. Every Saturday he would ride his bike or take the city bus to downtown McKinney where he would pay 15 cents to watch a movie at the Ritz Theatre. Later when he was in high school, he would have a job working at the Ritz.
In June of 1966, at the age of 18, RD and his good friend Bill Bryan received their long-awaited diplomas from McKinney High School. Two weeks later they were on a westbound train with the destination of the United States Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, California. Just over a year later, they both, at different times, shipped out for combat duty in the far-away, tiny country of South Vietnam.
After having served about twenty months overseas, in Okinawa, the Philippine Islands and South Vietnam, RD returned home in June of 1969. But on this trip, he traveled alone. Bill didn’t make it. Cpl. Charles William Bryan was killed in action on 20 January 1968, on Hill 881-North, about five miles northwest of the infamous US Marine combat base at Khe Sanh, Vietnam. His valor on that day, earned him the Navy Cross, the highest award the Marine Corps gives out, second only to the Medal of Honor.
RD spent the next thirty-five years trying to move on with his life without dwelling too much on what he had seen and experienced. However, that was easier said than done. Not a day went by that he didn’t think about Bill or Vietnam.
In 2004, RD ran across an old friend he hadn’t seen since high school. While talking, the friend said: “If I remember correctly, you and Bill Bryan joined the Marines right out of high school.” He told him that he had. “Well, whatever happened to Bill?” the friend asked. “Bill was killed in Vietnam,” RD replied. “Oh yeah,” he said, “I forgot.”
RD thought that since Bill was a true McKinney hero, having been awarded the Navy Cross for heroism, he would always be remembered in his hometown. It was at that moment he realized that even though in those 35 years not a day went by that he didn’t think about Bill, eventually he would be forgotten if he didn’t do something. RD had one more mission to accomplish. He needed to tell Bill Bryan’s story and the stories of the other Collin County fallen soldiers, so they would not be forgotten.
In 2007, he completed his first book, One Day as a Lion, telling the stories of the Collin County men who did not return from the Vietnam War. During that same time, he began a grass-roots campaign to build a veteran’s memorial to honor all Collin County men and women who gave their lives in the service of our country. After raising 1.3 million dollars, the Wall of Honor and Veterans Memorial Park in McKinney was dedicated on 11/11/2011 and currently 431 names are listed on the wall.
RD’s dedication did not stop with just a listing of the names but after hundreds of hours of research he learned the stories behind each of those names. His second mission was to go about documenting those stories and writing them down so they would not be forgotten. The first person on the list of Collin County heroes is a young Texas Ranger, whose unit was federalized into the US Army and fought in Mexico during the Mexican-American War in 1846. The list continues through the present-day, Global War on Terror, with the main fronts being Iraq and Afghanistan. The last name added is a 22-year-old US Air Force Airman 1st Class who died in Guam in 2020.
Those stories are written in a book series called Collin County Freedom Fighters: True Stories from the Wall of Honor, The Great War World War 1; True Stories from the Wall of Honor, The Korean War; True Stories from the Wall of Honor, The Vietnam War; and his latest book Collin County Freedom Fighters, The Wall of Honor. A free copy of each of these books was given to each historical organization and public library in Collin County, so that these men would not be forgotten.
In 2018, he led the campaign to have the Collin County Courthouse named after Russell A. Steindam, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient for giving his life for his fellow soldiers during the Vietnam War. RD was also co-founder of the North Texas Fallen Warrior Portrait Program, which has placed 70 portraits of Collin County fallen warriors in the “Hall of Heroes” at the Russell A. Steindam Courts Building in McKinney. He also served as the Military/Veterans Advisor for the Collin County History Museum.
Whether you are walking through the Veterans Memorial Park, viewing the portraits in the “Hall of Heroes” at the Russell Steindam Courthouse or reading the stories of the fallen soldiers in the Collin County Freedom Fighters books, his years of dedication to the mission of remembering and honoring our Collin County heroes will be remembered.
RD’s contributions will live on for generations to come. RD did what he said he would do, and his life is a testament to what epitomizes a true American Patriot and Hero. RD was faithful to the tenants of “The Marine Prayer” until his last breath.
The new exhibit at the Collin County History Museum, in historic downtown McKinney, is called Created in Collin County, and features artifacts donated by RD Foster. The exhibit is dedicated to RD Foster for his honor, courage and commitment.