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Joe Foss - FU Hero

Posted by Jolly on December 1, 2007

 Brigadier General Joseph Jacob “Joe” Foss’ illustrious life is the epitome of a great American. His life both as a civilian and as a military officer was exemplary to say the very least. He is an everlasting example of what is right and good about America, and every father should share the Joe Foss story with their sons.

His incredible journey began when he was born on a farm near Sioux Falls, SD. His passion for aviation was ignited when he visited the local airfield when he was 12 to see Charles Lindbergh on tour with the Spirit of St. Louis. Four years later, he further cultivated this passion when he and his father paid $1.50 each to take their first aircraft ride. One might say that the young man’s fate was inevitably sealed that very day.
His father passed in 1933, so Joe took over running the family farm. But, the crops and stock were destroyed by dust storms over the next two years during the Great Dust Bowl. Undaunted, like most in his generation, Joe earned a degree in Business Administration from the University of South Dakota as well as his pilot’s certificate by working at a local service station to pay for books, tuition and flying lessons.
Afterwards, Joe enlisted in the Marine Reserves Aviation Cadet program and was designate a Naval Aviator and commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. Joe’s eagerness for combat eventually led to his transfer to Marine Fighting Squadron 121 (VMF-121), and in October 1942, they were deployed to the South Pacific becoming part of the Cactus Air Force in the Battle of Guadalcanal.
Joe led a flight of eight Grumman F4F Wildcats affectionately known as ‘Foss’sfoss2.jpg Flying Circus’ on numerous combat missions. He shot down a Japanese Zero on his very first combat mission on October 13th, but his aircraft was badly damaged during the engagement. He was forced to make a dead engine landing at full speed with 3 Zeros on his tail on the American runway at Guadalcanal.

By the time Joe left Guadalcanal in January 1943, his ‘Flying Circus’ had shot down 72 Japanese aircraft, and he became the leading Marine Corps Ace during World War II scoring 26 confirmed kills. He was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony in 1943 and appeared on the cover of Life Magazine.
After the war, Joe served as a citizen soldier. He helped organize the South Dakota Air National Guard where he subsequently commanded the 175th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron. He was also called to active duty with the United States Air Force serving as the Director of Operations and Training for the Central Air Defense Command during the Korean War.
Joe Foss was elected and served two terms in the legislature of South Dakota, and foss3.jpghe was subsequently elected as the 20th Governor of South Dakota in 1955. During his term, he attended a TV game show in New York City with Tom Brokaw, who was then a high school student and Governor of South Dakota Boys State. Brokaw would later prominently feature Joe Foss in his book about World War II veterans, The Greatest Generation. He unfortunately lost to George McGovern while seeking a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
After his political loss, Joe Foss became the commissioner of the newly formed American Football League (AFL) in 1959. He oversaw the emergence of the new league and remained its commissioner until just 2 months prior to the merger of the NFL and AFL into one league.
Joe hosted ABC’s The American Sportsman from 1964 to 1967 as well as a syndicated program, The Outdoorsman: Joe Foss from 1967 to 1974. He also served as the President of the National Rifle Association from 1988 to 1990 where he was featured on the cover of Time Magazine wearing a Stetson hat and holding a revolver. He also served as a consultant in 2000 to the popular computer game ‘Combat Flight Simulator 2’ by Microsoft.
Joe gained renewed fame on January 11, 2002, now in his mid 80s, when he was stopped at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport while traveling to give a speech to the United States Military Academy at West Point. He was detained for carrying his actual Medal of Honor apparently because it has pointed edges as well as a clearly marked dummy-bullet key chain and a small pocket knife with the Medal of Honor insignia on it. His delay combined with the lack of recognition of the Medal of Honor and his age was used as examples of widespread abuse of passengers by airport security personnel at that time.
Joseph Jacob “Joe” Foss passed away on New Year’s Day in 2003 three months after having a severe stroke. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on January 21, 2003.
Joe Foss has coauthored, been the subject of or featured in four books, and he provided the foreword to Above and Beyond: the Aviation Medals of Honor byfoss1.jpg Barrett Tillman. Joe also thwarted a postwar attempt to film a story of his life, starring – get this – John Wayne, because he refused to allow a producer to add a fictitious love story. This alone encapsulates all that is right and good about the proud and great American.
Brigadier General Joseph Jacob “Joe” Foss’ name and patriotism live on in
perpetuity at the Foss Institute in Scottsdale, AZ. I encourage every retiree to join this incredible organization for no other reason than to pay homage to a great American and a great warrior.


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