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Medal of Honor recipient Joe Foss
|Birth name||Joseph Jacob Foss|
|Nickname||"Smokey Joe", "Old Joe", "Old Foos, "Ace of Aces"|
|Born||April 17, 1915|
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
|Died||January 1, 2003 (aged 87)|
|Buried at||Arlington National Cemetery|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Marine Corps|
South Dakota Air National Guard
|Years of service||1940–1946 (USMCR)|
|Rank||20px Major (USMC)|
20px Brigadier General (ANG)
|Battles/wars||World War II|
*Battle of Guadalcanal
|Awards||Medal of Honor|
Distinguished Flying Cross
|Other work||Governor of South Dakota|
American Football League Commissioner
National Rifle Association President
Joseph Jacob "Joe" Foss (April 17, 1915–January 1, 2003) was the leading fighter ace of the United States Marine Corps during World War II and a 1943 recipient of the Medal of Honor, recognizing his role in the air combat during the Guadalcanal Campaign. In postwar years, he achieved fame as a General in the Air National Guard, the 20th Governor of South Dakota, and the first commissioner of the American Football League, as well as a career as a television broadcaster.
- 1 Early years
- 2 Military career
- 3 Postwar
- 4 Later careers
- 5 Later years
- 6 Decorations
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Born on a farm near Sioux Falls, South Dakota, as the oldest son of Olouse and Mary Lacey Foss, Foss grew up in a farmhouse without electricity. When he was 12, he visited a local airfield in Renner to see Charles Lindbergh on tour with his aircraft, the Spirit of St. Louis. Four years later, he and his father paid $1.50 apiece to take their first aircraft ride in a Ford Trimotor at Black Hills Airport with a famed South Dakota aviator, Clyde Ice.
In 1933, while coming back from the fields during a storm, his father died when he drove over a downed electrical cable and was electrocuted as he stepped out of his automobile. Dropping out of school, young Foss, at the age of 17, with his mother, took over the running of the family farm. Farming was made difficult by dust storms, which over the next two years took its toll on crops and livestock. After watching a Marine Corps aerial team, led by Capt. Clayton Jerome, perform aerobatics in open-cockpit biplanes, he was determined to become a Marine aviator. Foss worked at a service station to pay for books and college tuition, and to begin flight lessons from Roy Lanning, at the Sioux Skyway Airfield in 1938, scraping up $65 to pay for the instruction. His younger brother took over the management of the farm and allowed Foss to go back to school and graduate from Sioux Falls College.
While at the University of South Dakota (USD), along with other like-minded students, Foss convinced authorities to set up a Civil Aeronautics Authority flying course at the university; he built up 100 flight hours by graduation. Foss paid his way through university by "bussing" tables. He joined the Sigma chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and excelled at sports in USD, fighting on the college boxing team, participating as a member of the track team and as a second-string guard on the football team. Foss served as a Private in the 147th Field Artillery, Sioux Falls, South Dakota National Guard from 1937 to 1940. By 1940, armed with a pilot certificate and a degree in Business Administration, Foss hitchhiked to Minneapolis to enlist in the Marine Corps Reserves, in order to join the Naval Aviation Cadet program to become a Naval Aviator.
World War II flying ace
After being designated a Naval Aviator, Foss graduated at Pensacola, Florida and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, then served as a "plowback" instructor at Naval Air Station Pensacola. At 26 years of age, he was considered too old to be a fighter pilot, and was instead sent to the Navy School of Photography. Upon completion of his initial assignment, he was transferred to Marine Photographic Squadron 1 (VMO-1) stationed at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, California. Dissatisfied with his role in photographic reconnaissance, Foss made repeated requests to be transferred to a fighter qualification program. He checked out in Grumman F4F Wildcats while still assigned to VMO-1, logging over 150 flight hours in June and July, 1942, and was eventually transferred to Marine Fighting Squadron 121 VMF-121 as the executive officer.[N 1] While stateside, Foss married his high school sweetheart, June Shakstad in 1942.
In October 1942, VMF-121 and its aircraft were sent to Guadalcanal as part of Operation Watchtower to relieve VMF-223, which had been fighting for control of the air over the island since their arrival in mid-August. On October 9, Foss and his group were catapult launched off the USS Copahee escort carrier and flew 350 miles north to reach Guadalcanal. The air group, code named "Cactus", based at Henderson Field became known as the Cactus Air Force, and their presence played a pivotal role in the Battle of Guadalcanal. Foss soon gained a reputation for aggressive close-in fighter tactics and uncanny gunnery skills.[N 2] Foss shot down a Japanese Mitsubishi Zero on his first combat mission on October 13, but his own F4F Wildcat was shot up as well, and with a dead engine and three more Zeros on his tail, he landed at full speed, with no flaps and minimal control on the American-held runway at Guadalcanal, barely missing a grove of palm trees.
As lead pilot in his flight of eight Wildcats, the group soon became known as Foss's Flying Circus, with two sections Foss nicknamed "Farm Boys" and "City Slickers." Conditions in the jungle were extreme, and in December 1942, Foss was stricken with malaria. He was sent to Sydney, Australia for rehabilitation, where he met Australian ace Clive "Killer" Caldwell and delivered some lectures on operational flying to RAF pilots, newly assigned to the theater. On January 1, 1943, Foss returned to Guadalcanal and "his boys," to continue combat operations which lasted until February 9, 1943, although the Japanese attacks had waned from the height of the November 1942 crisis. In three months of sustained combat, Foss's Flying Circus had shot down 72 Japanese aircraft, including 26 credited to him. Upon matching the record of 26 kills held by America's top World War I ace, Eddie Rickenbacker, Foss was accorded the honor of becoming America's first "ace-of-aces" in World War II.
Foss returned to the United States in March 1943. On May 18, 1943, Foss received the Medal of Honor from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The White House ceremony was featured in Life magazine, with the reluctant Captain Foss appearing on the magazine's cover. He then was asked to participate in a war bond tour that stretched into 1944.
Return to combat
In February 1944, Foss returned to the Pacific theater as the commanding officer of VMF-115, flying the F4U Corsair. VMF-115 was based in the combat zone around Emirau, St. Mathias Group in 1944. It was during this second tour that Foss met and became friends with fellow Marine fighter ace Marion Carl. He also had an opportunity to meet and fly with his boyhood idol, Charles Lindbergh, who was on assignment touring the South Pacific as an aviation consultant. After eight months of operational flying but no opportunities to increase his wartime score, Foss finished his combat service as one of America's top scoring pilots.
Foss again contracted malaria, and was sent home to the Klamath Falls Rehabilitation Center in Oregon. [N 3]In February 1945, he became operations and training officer at the Marine Corps Air Station, Santa Barbara, California.[N 4]
Air National Guard
In August 1945, Foss was released to inactive duty and opened Joe Foss Flying Service, charter flying service and flight instruction school in Sioux Falls, that eventually grew into a 35-aircraft operation. With a friend, he later owned a Packard car dealership in the town.
In October 1945, Foss was ordered to Iowa to appear at Navy Day ceremonies in four cities there and was finally relieved from active duty in December 1945 but was retained in the Marine Corps Reserve on inactive duty until 1947. In 1946, Foss was appointed a lieutenant colonel in the South Dakota Air National Guard and instructed to form the South Dakota Air National Guard, becoming the commanding officer for the Guard's 175th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron. During the unit's formative years, Foss was actively involved in administration and flying with the squadron, even becoming a member of their P-51 Mustang air demonstration team. During the Korean War, Foss, then a colonel, was called to active duty with the United States Air Force and served as a Director of Operations and Training for the Central Air Defense Command; he eventually reached the rank of Brigadier General.
Campaigning from the cockpit of a light aircraft, Foss served two elected terms as a Republican representative in the South Dakota legislature and, beginning in 1955, at age 39, as the state's youngest governor. During his tenure as governor, he accompanied Tom Brokaw, then a high school student and Governor of South Dakota American Legion Boys State, to New York City for a joint appearance on "Two for the Money," a television game show, which was featuring Foss because of his wartime celebrity. [N 5] In 1958, Foss unsuccessfully sought a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, having been defeated by the Democrat George McGovern in a year particularly discouraging to Republicans nationwide. Foss tried to re-enter politics in 1962 in a campaign to succeed Sen. Francis Case, who died in office. Foss and several other contenders lost to Joseph H. Bottum, who filled out Case's term. Bottum then lost to McGovern in the general election.
American Football League
After serving as governor, Foss spent a short time working for Raven Industries before becoming the first Commissioner of the newly-created American Football League in 1959. He oversaw the emergence of the league as the genesis of modern professional football. During the next seven years, Foss helped expand the league and made lucrative television deals, including a five-year, $10.6 million contract with ABC in 1960 to broadcast AFL games. He then stepped aside as commissioner in 1966, two months before the historic agreement that led to the merger of AFL and NFL and the creation of the Super Bowl.
Drawing on a lifelong love of hunting and the outdoors, Foss hosted ABC television's The American Sportsman from 1964 to 1967, which took him all over the world for hunting and fishing excursions. Foss then hosted and produced his own syndicated outdoors TV series, The Outdoorsman: Joe Foss, from 1967 to 1974. In 1972, he also began a six-year stint as Director of Public Affairs for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.
National Rifle Association
Starting in 1988, Foss was elected to two consecutive one-year terms as president of the National Rifle Association. In his later years he maintained a rigorous speaking schedule and spoke out for conservative causes on what he considered a weakening of gun owners' rights. He was portrayed on the cover of Time Magazine wearing his trademark Stetson hat and holding a revolver.
Foss, who had a daughter with cerebral palsy, served as president of the National Society of Crippled Children and Adults. Foss's many other charities included the Easter Seals campaign, Campus Crusade for Christ, and an Arizona program for disadvantaged youths. In 2001, Foss and his second wife, "Didi,"[N 6] founded The Joe Foss Institute, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that is still active today in promoting patriotism, public service, integrity and an appreciation for America's freedoms. The Institute recruits military veterans to go into classrooms across the country to interact with students. Foss did many of these school visits himself, speaking to teenagers about service, responsibility and commitment.
Other honors and recognition
Foss coauthored or was the subject of three books including the wartime Joe Foss: Flying Marine (with Walter Simmons); Top Guns (with Matthew Brennan); and A Proud American by his wife, Donna Wild Foss. Foss also provided the foreword to Above and Beyond: the Aviation Medals of Honor by Barrett Tillman, and was profiled in Tom Brokaw's 1998 book about World War II and its warriors, The Greatest Generation. Brokaw characterized Foss as, "He had a hero's swagger but a winning smile to go with his plain talk and movie-star looks. Joe Foss was larger than life, and his heroics in the skies over the Pacific were just the beginning of a journey that would take him to places far from that farm with no electricity and not much hope north of Sioux Falls." Brave Eagle, a 1955 postwar effort to film a story of Foss's life, starring his friend, John Wayne, fell through in 1956 when Foss refused to allow the producers to add a fictitious love story. American Ace: The Joe Foss Story was an award-winning, hour-length television documentary, produced by the South Dakota Public Broadcasting, first aired in fall 2006.
Foss was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1984. He also was a former president and board chairman of the Air Force Association and as a Director of the United States Air Force Academy. In 2000, Foss served as a consultant on the popular computer game Combat Flight Simulator 2 by Microsoft. A complete listing of Foss's affiliations and honors is given at The Joe Foss Institute.
On January 11, 2002, Foss, then 86, was in the news when he was detained by security at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. He was scheduled to deliver an address at the National Rifle Association and speak to a class at the United States Military Academy at West Point. A search necessitated by his pacemaker precluding a metal detector screening had led to the discovery of the star-shaped Medal of Honor, along with a clearly marked dummy-bullet keychain, a second replica bullet and a small nail file (with MOH insignia).
The incident caused a furor with both media and public support given to Foss. Newsman Jack Cafferty noted that airport security personnel demonstrated poor judgment in not recognizing the Medal of Honor and in demanding to confiscate and destroy the medal and related memorabilia. The repeated requests for Foss to remove his boots, hat and belt were both a time consuming inconvenience and an embarrassment, and demonstrated a lack of regard for a decorated war hero.[N 7]
"I wasn't upset for me," he said. "I was upset for the Medal of Honor, that they just didn't know what it even was. It represents all of the guys who lost their lives – the guys who never came back. Everyone who put their lives on the line for their country. You're supposed to know what the Medal of Honor is." The incident led to a national debate about post 9/11 airport security practices and their ramifications on the average citizen.
Foss suffered a severe stroke in October 2002 when he bled from a cerebral aneurysm. He died three months later on New Year's Day, 2003, never having regained consciousness. Foss died in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he and his wife had made their home in later years. Vice President Dick Cheney, retired Colonel Oliver North and South Dakota native and NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw were among those who attended with North delivering the eulogy. Actor Charlton Heston gave a brief but powerful tribute to his old friend. Foss was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Section 7A, Lot 162 on January 21, 2003. Family, friends, military personnel and dignitaries remembered him fondly at a service in Arlington and at an earlier "Memorial Service for an American Patriot" in the old chapel at nearby Fort Myer.
|Medal of Honor|
|Distinguished Flying Cross||Presidential Unit Citation||American Defense Service Medal|
|American Campaign Medal||Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three bronze stars||World War II Victory Medal|
- List of Medal of Honor recipients
- List of Medal of Honor recipients for World War II
- American Football League players, coaches and contributors
- Miller 1969, p. 115.
- "American Ace: The Joe Foss Story." South Dakota Public Broadcasting, 2011. Retrieved: August 4, 2011.
- Bauer January 1990, p. 20.
- Sims 1969, p. 32.
- "Obituary: Joe Foss." historicalmilitaria.com. Retrieved: August 4, 2011.
- "Medal of Honor recipients." 2011 North-American Interfraternity Conference via nicindy.org, 2011. Retrieved: August 3, 2011.
- Bauer March 1990, p. 40.
- Jackson 1978, p. 128.
- Yenne 2009, p. 100.
- Miller 1969, p. xi.
- Loomis 1961, p. 94.
- Tillman 1995, p. 30.
- Bauer May 1990, p. 80.
- Shores 1975, p. 61.
- Gurney 1982, p. 117.
- "Joseph Foss - Life Magazine Cover." Life magazine, June 7, 1943 via life.com. Retrieved: August 3, 2011.
- "The Story of Joe's Jokers." The Joe Foss Institute. Retrieved: August 4, 2011.
- Bauer May 1990, p. 82.
- "Brigadier General Joseph Jacob Foss, ANG (Deceased)." usmc.mil. Retrieved: August 3, 2011.
- Brokaw 1998, p. 119.
- "114th Fighter Wing, South Dakota Air National Guard." South Dakota Department of the Military and Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved: August 4, 2011.
- "Joe Foss." Century of Flight, 2003. Retrieved: August 4, 2011.
- Miller 1969, p. 212.
- "Joseph J. Foss, Brigadier General, United States Marine Corps." arlingtoncemetery.net. Retrieved: July 5, 2011.
- Cite error: Invalid
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- Bernstein, Adam. "WWII Ace, SD Gov. Joe Foss Dies; Also Headed Football League, NRA." Washington Post, January 3, 2003.
- "TIME Magazine Cover: Joe Foss - Guns, Violence." TIME, January 29, 1990. Retrieved: August 3, 2011.
- Harriman, Peter. "S.D. loses legend, American hero." Argus Leader, January 2, 2003. Retrieved: August 3. 2011.
- "Why We exist." The Joe Foss Institute. Retrieved: August 4, 2011.
- Brokaw 1998, p. 115.
- "Enshrinees." National Aviation Hall of Fame. Retrieved: August 3, 2011.
- Seal, Jon and Michael Ahn. "An Interview with Joseph Jacob 'Joe' Foss." Microsoft Games Studios, March 2000. Retrieved: August 3, 2011.
- "Accomplishments and Affiliations." The Joe Foss Institute. Retrieved: August 4, 2011.
- Cafferty, Jack. "Interview with Joe Foss: Decorated WWII veteran detained, searched at airport." CNN.com, February 27, 2002.
- Smith 2003, p. xviii.
- Alonso-Zildivar, Ricardo. "Public Anger Simmers Over Airport Searches." Los Angeles Times, March 11, 2002.
- Goldstein, Richard. "Joe Foss, 87, Flying Ace Who Led Football League, Is Dead." The New York Times (Obituary), January 2003.
- Harriman, Peter and David Kranz. "S.D. loses legend, American hero." Argus Leader, January 2, 2003.
- Bauer, Daniel. "Joe Foss: American Hero (Part One)." Air Classics, Volume 26, Number 1, January 1990.
- Bauer, Daniel. "Joe Foss: American Hero (Part Two)." Air Classics, Volume 26, Number 3, March 1990.
- Bauer, Daniel. "Joe Foss: American Hero (Part Three)." Air Classics, Volume 26, Number 5, May 1990.
- "Brigadier General Joseph Jacob Foss, ANG." Who's Who in Marine Corps History.
- Brokaw, Tom. The Greatest Generation. New York: Random House, 1998. ISBN 978-0-375-50202-6.
- "Capt Joseph J. Foss, Medal of Honor, 1942, VMA, Guadalcanal (Medal of Honor citation)." United States Marine Corps.
- Foss, Joe. A Proud American: The Autobiography of Joe Foss. New York: Presidio Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0-89141-775-0.
- Gurney, Gene. Five Down & Glory. New York: Ballantine Books, 1982, First edition 1965. ISBN 978-0-345-30799-6.
- Jackson, Robert. Fighter Aces of World War II: The True Stories of Fourteen of World War II's Fighter Pilots: London: Corgi Books, 1978. ISBN 0-552-10783-2.
- Loomis, Robert D. Great American Fighter Pilots of World War II. New York: Random House, 1961. ISBN 0-394-90396-X.
- Miller, Thomas G. Jr. The Cactus Air Force. New York: Ballantine Books, 1969. ISBN 0-553-14766-8.
- Shores, Christopher. Fighter Aces. London: Hamlyn Publishing, 1975. ISBN 0-600-30230-X.
- Sims, Edward H. Greatest Fighter Missions of the top Navy and Marine aces of World War II. New York: Ballantine Books, 1969, First edition 1962. ISBN 978-0-03-450163-6.
- Smith, Larry. Beyond Glory: Medal of Honor Heroes in Their Own Words. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004, First edition 2003. ISBN 978-0-393-32562-1.
- Tillman, Barrett. Wildcat Aces of World War 2 (Aircraft of the Aces). Oxford, UK: Osprey, 1995. ISBN 978-1-85532-486-2.
- Yenne, Bill. Aces High: The Heroic Saga of the Two Top-Scoring American Aces of World War II. New York: Berkley, 2009. ISBN 978-1-101-00266-7.
- Zimmerman, Dwight Jon and John D. Gresham. Uncommon Valor: The Medal of Honor and the Six Warriors Who Earned It in Afghanistan and Iraq. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-312-36385-7.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Joe Foss.|
- Joseph Foss - C.O. VMF-121
- Joseph J. Foss
- Joe Foss Institute
- South Dakota Air National Guard website
- Joseph Jacob Foss, Claim to Fame: Medal of Honor recipients at Find a Grave
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