Joseph Jacob "Joe" Foss

USMC   Brigadier General

MoH,  Silver Star,  DFC,  Bronze Star

Born 17 April 1915 on a farm near Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
When he was 12 he saw Charles Lindbergh on tour.
Took his first flight when he was 16 in a Ford Tri-Motor.
Just before Joe's 18th birthday, his father was killed by a downed power line leaving Joe to help care for his family.
Odd jobs, schooling & the occasional flying lesson followed.
When he was 25 he graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in business administration.
With that in hand, he joined the Marines with a wish to fly.
He was winged in Miami on 29 March 1941.
He served as an instructor in Pensacola & was promoted to 1st Lieutenant on 10 April 1942.
He joined VMF-121 & was promoted to Capt., 11 Aug 1942.
VMF-121 sailed to Guadalcanal on board the USS Copahee, their Wildcats landing at Henderson Field, 9 October 1942.
Joe Foss
For the next 3 months, "Joe's Flying Circus" helped defend the island from extensive Japanese counter-attacks.
On 7 November, he was shot down (in F4F-4 02147 or 03453 in USN/USMC AC loss list) by enemy fighters (bullets just missing his head) while strafing Japanese ships 240 kilometers north of Guadalcanal. He struggled in his life-jacket for five hours in a storm with sharks circling until members of a Catholic mission from the island of Malaita, who happened to be paddling by in canoes, rescued him.
In his autobiography he said he broke a chlorine capsule to keep the sharks away. "It's a good thing I didn't know, as would later be proven, that chlorine doesn't protect swimmers from shark attacks,"
Sick with malaria, he was evacuated along with the rest of 121 on 19 November. He returned on 1 January 1943.
On 15 January 1943, had matched Eddie Rickenbacker's record of 26 planes destroyed.
He left the Island on 26 January.
On 8 May 1943 he received the Medal of Honor from President Roosevelt during a special ceremony at the White House.
He made the cover of the 7 June 1943 issue of Time Magazine.
Promoted to Major, 1 June 1943, he became CO of VMF-115 on 17 July 1943. He held that post until 20 September 1944 when a recurrence of Malaria forced him to relinquish command.
He returned to Sioux Falls, where he and a friend ran the Joe Foss Flying Service, building it into a venture with 35 airplanes.
In 1946, he left the Marine Corps to accept a Commission in the South Dakota National Guard as a Lt. Colonel.
In 1948 he was elected to the South Dakota House of Representatives where he served a two-year term.
When the Korean War broke out, the Marines recalled him, and he directed training.
He was promoted to Colonel in 1950 & then to Brigadier General in 1954.
In 1954 he was elected Governor of South Dakota (The youngest Governor the the history of the state). He was re-elected in 1956.
He ran for Congress against George McGovern (himself a decorated WW2 bomber pilot) in 1958 but lost. McGovern went on to run against Richard Nixon in the 1972 Presidential race but lost.
Joe was president of the National Society of Crippled Children and Adults from 1956 to 1961.
He served as the Commissioner of the American Football League from 1959 to 1966.
He hosted ABC's American Sportsman from 1962 to 1965.
He hosted The Outdoorsman: Joe Foss from 1966 to 1974.
He was Director of Public Affairs for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines from 1972 to 1978.
He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio in 1984.
He was the President of the National Rifle Association from 1988 to 1990.
In a Time Magazine article (again making the cover but this time holding a pistol) from 29 January 1990, he was quoted - "I say all guns are good guns. There are no bad guns. I say the whole nation should be an armed nation. Period." Gun control advocates were not happy.
"The thing I haven't figured out yet is why so many of the First Amendment people try to destroy the Second Amendment. Because one day they'll need our help to try and save the First Amendment, the way some of these people think."
Joe took his last flight, 1 January 2003. His body is parked at the Arlington National Cemetery


Medal of Honor Citation

For outstanding heroism and courage above and beyond the call of duty as executive officer of Marine Fighting Squadron 121, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, at Guadalcanal. Engaging in almost daily combat with the enemy from 9 October to 19 November 1942, Captain Foss personally shot down 23 Japanese planes and damaged others so severely that their destruction was extremely probable. In addition, during this period, he successfully led a large number of escort missions, skillfully covering reconnaissance, bombing, and photographic planes as well as surface craft. On 15 January 1943, he added 3 more enemy planes to his already brilliant successes for a record of aerial combat achievement unsurpassed in this war. Boldly searching out an approaching enemy force on 25 January, Captain Foss led his 8 F-4F Marine planes and 4 Army P-38's into action and, undaunted by tremendously superior numbers, intercepted and struck with such force that 4 Japanese fighters were shot down and the bombers were turned back without releasing a single bomb. His remarkable flying skill, inspiring leadership, and indomitable fighting spirit were distinctive factors in the defense of strategic American positions on Guadalcanal.


Missing Marine Ace Made First Flight When Only 8
Love of Flying Uppermost in Life of Fighter, Says Mother of Maj. Boyington

Okanogan, Wash., 10 January 1944 - (AP) - Gregory Boyington made his first model plane at a kindergarten age...
He made his first flight when he was 8...
He once said flying "is the only thing I'd ever want to get up before breakfast for"...
So Gregory Boyington became a flier. And, as Maj. Gregory Boyington of the United States marines, he shot down his 26th enemy plane this week - a total that made him a co-holder of the record for United States airmen - and did not return.
He was reported missing in action only a few hours after the news came of the 26th "kill" that put him even with another marine, Maj. Joe Foss, and with Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, whose mark has stood since the First World War.
Boyington was 31 - old for a fighting pilot - and he'd been striving for the record in a race against time, the time when he would be grounded in a staff job. Sometimes he doubted that he would make it: "The Japs are getting pretty scarce out here and I doubt if I will be able to beat Joe Foss' record before I am sent home," he wrote in December.


Top European Ace Runs Total of Kills to 20

London, England, 9 March 1944 - (AP) - Capt. Walker Mahurin, a Thunderbolt fighter pilot from Fort Wayne, Ind., emerged from Wednesday's air battle over Germany as the leading American ace of the European theater.
He destroyed three German planes to raise his total of victories to 20, six short of the war's record held jointly by Maj. Joseph J Foss and the late Maj. Gregory Boyington, each of whom set his mark in the southwest Pacific.
Mahurin was pressed for his lead by Lieut. Robert Johnson of Lawton, Okla., who bagged two Wednesday to reach a total of 19.



ADVANCED SOUTH PACIFIC AIRBASE, March 10, 1944 (Delayed) - (AP) - Maj. Joe Foss, the Marine Corps’ top ace of Guadalcanal days is ready for more action against the Japanese.
The 26-plane ace from Sioux Falls, S.D., has returned to the Solomons as skipper of a Marine fighter squadron which includes four other veterans of the Guadalcanal campaign.
"We're not out for records," the cigar-smoking airman announced. "I want to do our job well and bring these kids home safely. If we get any Zeroes it will be the result of team play."


New Aces Strive To Trump Rickenbacker

By The Associated Press NEW YORK, April 1, 1944 — On some fine tomorrow, a fighter pilot may alight at a southwest Pacific or English air base with the news that he has broken Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker's World war 1 record of 26 kills.
The marines' top ace, Joe Foss, who has tied that mark, is back on the prowl in the Pacific, and three other sharp-eyed fighter pilots are gunning along not far behind.
Maj. Foss, a Sioux Falls (S. D.) boy, shares with the missing Maj. Gregory Boyington of Okanogan, Wash., another Marine, the honor of equaling Capt. Rickenbacker's record.
Now president of Eastern Airlines, Rickenbacker recently predicted it will be doubled or trebled before the war ends.
Capt. Richard I. Bong of Poplar, Wis., an army pilot in the southwest Pacific, has a bag of 25 planes.
Capt. Robert S. Johnson of Lawton, Okla., is the leading U.S. ace of the European theater with 22.
Maj. Walker Mahurin of Ft. Wayne, Ind., had a victory string of 20 planes at last reports, as did Capt. Donald N. Aldrich and Capt. Kenneth A. Walsh of Brooklyn, N.Y.
A number of other American pilots in both theaters have records in the high 'teens within striking distance of the record for both wars.
The 81-plane record of Baron Manfred von Richthofen, German ace of World war I, has been exceeded by at least two German fighter pilots, a check of Nazi reports indicate.
Col. Werner Molders, killed in the crash of a transport plane at Breslau in 1941, had been decorated for 115 air victories, 103 in World War II, the rest in the Spanish civil war.
The Paris radio reported recently that a Lt. Col. Mayer, credited with 102 planes, had been killed in an air accident. He reputedly was the last survivor of the original Richthofen squadron, named in honor of the baron.
The British always have been inclined to discount these enemy records on the theory that German requirements for official confirmation are not so rigid as their own.
The British World War I record of 73 planes, hung up by Maj. Edward Mannock (Billy Bishop actually holds the record for English-speaking flyers in WW1 with 72 -jf) before his death, seems fairly secure.
Wing Commander Brendan (Paddy) Finucane, an Irishman with the royal air force, had 32 planes, to his credit when his Spitfire was shot into the English Channel in 1942.
Flight Lt George Beurling, ace of the Canadian fighter pilots, had a bag of 30 planes in most recent reports.
Before his death in an accident in Italy in January, Wing Commander Lance Wade of Tucson, Ariz., was considered the RAF ace in the Mediterranean. He had 25 planes officially and many more probables.
Leading Russian ace is said to be Alexander Pokryshkin with 53 planes.


Capt. Bong's 27 Planes Downed in Combat Puts Him at Top

(By The Associated Press) 13 April, 1944 - Today's Southwest Pacific headquarters announcement that Capt. Richard Ira Bong has downed 27 enemy planes in combat makes him the leading American ace in number of planes shot down in combat, but second to Capt. Don S. Gentile of the European theater in the number destroyed both in the air and on the ground.
Gentile, the Piqua Ohio fighter pilot who flies from Britain, is credited with 30 planes destroyed — 23 shot from the skies and seven others destroyed on the ground.
Bong, who lives at Poplar, Wis., broke Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker's long-standing record of 26 planes shot down in combat in World War I by getting his 26th and 27th enemy plane over the Japanese base at Hollandia, New Guinea.
Only planes destroyed in aerial combat are tallied in the Pacific theater while all planes destroyed, both on the ground and in combat, are credited to Eighth air force fliers in Britain, the navy keeps no official counts of individual victories but Lt. (jg) Ira Kepford of Muskegon, Mich., is credited with 16 Japanese planes.
The Marine record of 26 planes downed is held jointly by Maj. Joe Foss of Sioux Falls, S.D. and Maj. Gregory Boyington of Okanogan, Wash., who is missing in action.
Nineteen other army, navy and marina corps fliers have destroyed 15 or more enemy planes, and while Mediterranean theater records list no fliers among the top 24 with 15 or more planes to their credit, the two leaders there are Maj. Herschel Green of Mayfield, Ky., with 13 and Lt William J. Sloan of Richmond, Va. with 12.
The leading aces are:
European theater: Capt. Don S. Gentile, Piqua, Oh., 30; Capt. Robert S. Johnson, Lawton, Okla., 22; Capt. Duane W. Beeson, Boise, Ida., 21; Maj. Walker Mahurin, Fort Wayne, Ind., (missing) 21; Maj. Gerald Johnson, Owenton, Ky., (missing) 18; Maj. Walter Beckham, De Funiak Springs, Fla., (missing) 18; Maj. Francis S. Gabreski, Oil City, Pa., 17; and Lt.-Col. Glenn E. Duncan, Houston, Tex., 15.
Pacific (Army): Capt. Richard Bong, Popular, Wis., 27; Col. Neel E. Kearby, San Antonio, Tex., (missing) 21; Lt.-Col. Thomas J. Lynch, Catasauqua, Pa., (dead) 19; Capt. Thomas B. McGuire, Jr., San Antonio, Tex., 17; Maj. Robert Westbrook, Hollywood, Calif., 16 and Maj. George S. Welch, Wilmington, Del., 16.
Pacific (Marines): Maj. Joe Foss, Sioux Falls, S.D., 26; Maj. Gregory Boyington, Okanogan, Wash., (missing) 26; Lt. Robert Hanson, Newtonville, Mass., (missing) 26; Capt. Donald Aldrich, Chicago, 20; Lt. Kenneth Walsh, Brooklyn and Washington, 20; Lt.-Col. John L. Smith, Lexington, Okla., 19; Maj. M. E. Carl, Hubbard, Ore., 17; Lt. William J. Thomas, El Dorado, Kan., 16 and Capt. Harold R. Spears of Ironton, Ohio with 15.


Four Grounded, So Ace Field Is Wide Open
Oil City Man Is High Among 'Eligibles'

By UNITED PRESS, 18 April 1944 - The field is wide open for a new leading American fighter ace.
Four of the top ranking fliers today were grounded for various reasons. These aces and their records are:
Capt. Don S. Gentile, Piqua, O., credited with 30 planes, including seven destroyed on the ground in daring sweeps over enemy airdromes in the European Theater.
Maj. Richard I. Bong, Poplar, Wis., credited with 27 air victories in the Southwest Pacific area.
Maj. Joe Foss, Sioux Falls, S.D., credited with 26 victories in the Southwest Pacific.
Capt. Bob Johnson, Lawton, Okla., who has shot down 25 Nazi planes in combat. Only 22 of them have been confirmed, however, with three pending.

Great Risks Emphasized
Should he eventually receive credit for those three, Capt. Johnson, along with Maj. Bong and Maj. Foss, would top Capt. Gentile if only planes shot down in combat were counted.
But some fliers contend this would not be altogether fair because fighters take even greater proportionate risks to bag planes on enemy airfields than they do in dogfights in the sub-stratosphere. The danger from anti-aircraft fire, they say, justifies counting ground destructions even though this is not done in other theaters.
Capt. Gentile is going away for a short rest starting sometime today. He has served his tour of duty several times and has more than 350 combat hours behind him.
Maj. Bong likewise has been ordered to rest after running up his "ace of aces" string of 27 combat victories.
Maj. Foss has been given a ground and instructional assignment utilizing his experience as a teacher, after returning to the Southwest Pacific from home leave.
Capt. Johnson has completed his tour of duty and is not likely to return to active service.

Oil City Man Rates High
Leading contenders in the European Theater include Lt. Col. Francis Gabreski, Oil City, Pa., who has shot down 28 planes in combat and has been credited with destroying two on the ground; Col. Glen Duncan, Houston, Tex., who has a 17 total, 16 of them in combat, and Lt. Col. David Schilling, Detroit, who has shot down 15.


Victories Include :

13 Oct 1942
14 Oct 1942
18 Oct 1942

20 Oct 1942
23 Oct 1942
25 Oct 1942
7 Nov 1942

12 Nov 1942

15 Nov 1942
15 Jan 1943
one Zero
one Zero
two Zeros
one 2-Tail Bomber
two Zeros
  4  Zeros
  5  Zeros
one Rufe
two Petes
two Bettys
one Zero
one Pete
  3  Zeros
destroyed *

26 / 0 / 0

* Ace in a day (two separate sorties)

  Cigar Chompin' Joe Foss


Dead from All Wars Honored

WASHINGTON, 11 November 1957 - (AP) - The nation’s military dead from all wars are honored today at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where next year three unknowns from as many conflicts will lie.
Gov. Joe Foss of South Dakota, a Marine flying ace in World War II and an Air Force officer during the Korean conflict, was the principal speaker for Veterans Day ceremonies timed to mark the anniversary of the armistice which ended World War I.
When next Veterans Day comes there will be three Unknown Soldiers — symbols of all the unknowns who died in two world wars and Korea. The unknowns of World War II and Korea will be placed in crypts at the tomb on Memorial Day, May 30, 1958.
Almost 1,800 generals in World War II had more troops under their command than were ever under the banners of Napoleon.


Foss Eyes Clash With Titan Boss

By DON WEISS, New York, 24 November 1961 (AP) — Former Marine ace Joe Foss, quipping that "it's like having an audience with Khrushchev," prepared today for a showdown meeting with Harry Wismer over the New York Titan president's challenge to his authority as commissioner of the American Football League.
"It (the meeting) may come today. it may come later," Foss said. "I'm looking into certain things, very carefully. When it happens depends on how fast things move. I’m taking my time. We've had discussions before. It's like having an audience with Khrushchev."
Foss declined to explain what "things" meant but he balked at discussing little else in the sizzling feud that followed revelations that the young professional league had conducted a premature draft of college players in violation of an agreement with college officials.
Foss, claiming no knowledge of the owners’ secret draft that came two weeks before the agreed upon Dec. 2 date, ordered it canceled Wednesday. Wismer openly defied the cancellation and said he would continue to try to sign the six college players, including Syracuse halfback Ernie Davis, he had picked in the draft.
Now each is threatening to oust the other and Foss is convinced he has the support of the other seven owners,
"The other owners realize you must have a commissioner, someone running the show," the World War II Marino pilot and former governor of South Dakota told The Associated Press.


Medal of Honor Might Be a Weapon

After almost an hour of being hassled by security guards at Phoenix international Airport in Arizona last month, 86-year-old Joe Foss was finally allowed to board his flight with his Medal of Honor.
The aged war veteran was detained and forced to take off his boots, tie, belt and hat three times because he was carrying a Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest military award a U.S. soldier can receive, which had caught the attention of security guards who thought it might have been a weapon.
"They just kept passing it around. There were eight or nine or 10 of them who handled it before it was over," said Mr. Foss, adding the guards were being particularly nasty. "They found it in my pocket at the airport, and they thought it was suspicious. It's shaped like a star, and they kept handing it to each other and inspecting it. I was told to move to a separate area."
Mr. Foss was awarded the medal by U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Second World War after Mr. Foss shot down 26 enemy planes as a fighter pilot in the South Pacific.
Shortly after he was awarded the medal, Mr. Foss had his photograph taken. That photo ran on the cover of Life magazine on June 7, 1943, with the headline "Captain Foss, U.S.M.C. America's No. 1 Ace."
Mr. Foss spent his youth in South Dakota, a state in which he would later become governor.
He said he usually does not boast about his accomplishments, and that he doesn't make it a habit to walk around wearing his Medal of Honor.
But last month he was on his way to give a speech to a class at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and he thought the medal might be something the cadets would be interested in seeing, so he pinned it inside his overcoat.
Because of the heart pacemaker in his chest, Mr. Foss must be patted down when he travels, as X-rays and metal detectors could cause difficulty.
While he was being patted down, airport security zoned in on a keychain in Mr. Foss's pants pocket, which was made from a dummy bullet given to him by actor Charlton Heston, president of the National Rifle Association. The guards also forced him to remove a miniature knife he carries that has the Medal of Honor Society's insignia on it.
Then they found the medal.
"I told them, 'Just turn it over. The engraving on the back explains everything,' " he said. "But they thought they must have something potentially dangerous here."
After arguing with the guards, who originally told him all of the items (including the medal) would be destroyed, Mr. Foss was given the opportunity to mail the bullet and the knife to his home.
The guards eventually gave back his medal. "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."

(He was 86 years old ... and this was before 9/11. Best check your white privilege Mr Foss -jf)


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On these pages I use Hugh Halliday's extensive research which includes info from numerous sources; newspaper articles via the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation (CMCC); the Google News Archives; the London Gazette Archives and other sources both published and private.

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