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History and Heritage

Honoring Our Father's Legacy

Two sons whose strength and courage lie rooted in memories of their dad

How does a man honor a father he knows more from other people's memories than from personal experience? How does a man honor a father who looms so large in his thoughts and dreams, yet who occupied so little time in his life?

Those are thoughts of Tyrone "Ty" Foster, in his book, "Navigate to Greatness." Those are the thoughts he has contemplated over and over since his father paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to his country.

"I remember that day, 'the incident,' they call it, like it was yesterday," he said in an interview. "I remember the news was on. I remember my mom saying, 'Guys, go watch the news.' Now to this day, I'm pretty sure she knew what was going on, but I go over to the TV in my sisters' room and I'm looking and my sister goes, 'That's Dad's ship.'"

The kids saw images of their father's ship, guided-missile frigate USS Stark (FFG 31), in the Persian Gulf with smoke billowing from two gaping portside holes. Only hours before, an Iraqi fighter jet had fired on Stark in an attack that claimed the lives of 37 Sailors, including Senior Chief Quartermaster Vernon T. Foster Sr.

I just remember being confused, and then almost as immediately as I saw that, we got a knock at the door. [After] that knock ... it was the scream I remember. My mom screamed because she knew what that meant. I didn't know what that meant." - Ty Foster

Five-year-old Ty and his 2-year-old brother, Vernon T. Foster II, soon realized their dad wouldn't be coming home. They wondered why their father had to die.

"Growing up without my dad, given the circumstances, the way he passed, I think when I was younger I would be kind of frustrated," said Vernon.
"There was a lot of anger and frustration that maybe I unleashed through my behavior, like being the class clown or acting out in class, or always being in the principal's office. So I think I internalized this as like a fight, like it was me against the world. It's not fair that I grew up without my father."

Following the tragedy, both Vernon and Ty experienced many feelings typically associated with tragic loss of a loved one: confusion, sorrow, grief, anger. And the questions they asked often yielded more questions than answers.
Three photo collage of damage to Stark: closeup of port side; full view of Stark listing; closeup looking down

"Why did this happen? Why to them?" asked then-President Ronald Reagan during a memorial service for the fallen Stark crew members. "Could anything be worth such a sacrifice? And these fallen, whom we knew and loved but rarely thought of as great men or legends, can we now say they are heroes? And even if we can, would we not rather have them back, ordinary men again perhaps, but still ours, ours to hold and to keep?"
It would take Ty and Vernon time to realize the significance of the sacrifice their father made in service to his country.

"A large part of my lack of communication, I think, resulted from the trauma of losing my father," said Ty, "I forgot what my dad did. I forgot what he did for this country. It was like somebody murdered him and that was it. ... There were a lot of things inside of me that weren't right, so I couldn't really embrace his legacy until I was in my early teens."

Over time, though, Vernon and Ty began to learn more about their father through the memories of family members and their father's shipmates.

"In particular, there's a guy named John; he often tells me that if it weren't for my dad he doesn't know where he would be," Vernon said, although he still doesn't know all the specifics.

[It's] almost like my dad literally saved this guy's life ... and that's just one of many, probably hundreds, of stories of other people that he impacted in some way."
- Vernon Foster II

"At this crucial moment in my life, I met this gentleman who knew my father and served with him," Ty added. "He said, 'Listen, man. Did anybody ever tell you the story about your dad?' So I said, 'Yeah, I already know the story. The Iraqis killed him and I don't want to hear anymore. Leave us alone. Why are you talking to us?' I was really rude ... [but] in 30 seconds he gave me peace ... He said, 'Hey, your dad is the man. ... I'm the man I am today because of your father.'"
Three photo collage from Foster family photo album: newspaper clipping; QMCS Foster in uniform; newspaper clipping

Those brief instances, the moments they spent listening to stories about their father, promoted emotional healing, bolstered their pride and gave them a sense of resilience. As adults, they have worked hard to become the men he hoped they would be.

"Although this was a very tragic thing, and it's still something my family is working through," Vernon said, "I find strength in knowing that there [were] people that came into my life and they almost were like surrogate fathers, or mentors or coaches. ... They took the opportunity to spend that extra hour with me in class. They took that opportunity to talk to me after football practice. They took that opportunity to tell me, lift me up, encourage me and say, 'Son, look. I know that you're more than what you are displaying right now in your behavior.'"

The legacy of Vernon Sr., who rose above segregation and oppression to become a leader and mentor for so many Sailors, became a guiding light for his sons. It provided a glimpse into the inner workings of his character, in that he did not let his circumstances early in life dictate the level of success he could one day achieve.

"My father was born into the segregated south, into a culture that expected him to keep his head down and his hands to himself," Ty said in his book. "And my father, through his brilliance and determination and integrity, rose into a man who held his head high and placed his hands in a position of authority. My father navigated his way from oppressed to impressive, from disrespected to respectable, from powerless to powerful, and because he navigated those seas first, he cleared the way for me to follow."

Both sons want to live up to their father's memory. For example, Vernon, a 2009 graduate of Florida State University, aims to show people that their dreams are possible if they work hard enough as an entrepreneur and founder of

Ty, a 2008 graduate of Florida State University, is a motivational speaker, author and entrepreneur, as founder of AIM Solutions LLC. He is a husband and father of three, and dedicates his life to inspiring others.

The way he treated people, I took on those characteristics. I embody that. It's a part of who I am." - Ty Foster

"What I do professionally, as a father [and] in business, how I conduct myself is in large part because of what my dad did," said Ty.