|FOSS, JOSEPH JACOB - 1984
BIO: It is 1927, and if there is ever a kid that Lindbergh makes want to fly it is 12-year old Joe Foss, after he sees America's "Hero of Heroes" at an airport near Sioux Falls. The frosting on the cake comes five years later when he watches a marine squadron put on a dazzling exhibition. The roar of their old egg-beaters, the excitement and the skill of the pilots drive him wild! Soon after, he takes his first flight in an old bucket of bolts strung together with baling wire. But the thrill is genuine and unforgettable!
In 1934, Joe begins his college education in Sioux Falls, but the times are tough and he has to drop out to help his mother and his younger brother, Cliff, run the family farm. Then, despite the hard times, he scrapes up $65 to learn to fly on the installment plan. His instructor says he's a natural and takes to it like a duck to water.
Determined to finish his education, he enters the University of South Dakota and supports himself by waiting table in his fraternity house. In his senior year he also helps establish a civilian pilot training program at the University and completes its ground school and flight instruction courses before he graduates with a Business Administration degree in 1940.
Now intent upon becoming a marine aviator, he enlists in the Marine Corps reserves as an aviation cadet. But he never tells anyone he has learned to fly twice before. Seven months later, he earns his Marine wings at Pensacola and is commissioned a second lieutenant. For the next nine months he is a flight instructor, then when the nation is plunged into World War II, he completes the aerial photographers school and is assigned to a reconnaissance squadron. But when he insists he wants fighter pilot duty, even after being told "You're too ancient, Joe. You're 27 years old!" He is finally assigned to fighter training. When he finishes, he becomes executive officer of Marine Fighter squadron one-twenty-one. Three weeks later, he is on his way to the South Pacific, where Americans are desperately trying to turn the tide of war. It is the battle for Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands into which his squadron is thrust, as the Japanese strive to drive the Americans from it. Henderson Field is the target for enemy air, sea and ground attacks. There he is greeted by jungles, sniper attacks, naval shellings and intermittent night bombing attacks by "Washing Machine Charlie" and "Louie the Louse." The next morning Joe takes his flight up on its first mission, escorting bombers attacking ships of the "Tokyo Express" bringing in more troops. But when he complains that he has seen no enemy planes, an old-timer says, "When you do, you'll be a Christian!"
A week later, Foss and his men are in the air to help turn back the growing Japanese offensive, when suddenly Zero fighters dive on his flight. One sends a stream of bullets at him, but when it pulls up in front of him, he squeezes the trigger and it blows into a thousand pieces. It is his first victory! But other Zeros attack him and a shell rips off part of his wing and his engine conks out. When he makes a desperate dead-stick landing at Henderson, an old-timer asks, "Now are you a Christian?" "You're damned right!" Foss snorts. The next day while intercepting a flight of enemy bombers, Joe 's engine acts up and he takes cover in the clouds. But suddenly a wildcat whizzes past him tailed by a Zero. Joe cuts loose and shoots the Zero's wing off. It is his second victory in two days!
A few days later, his flight sights several decoy Zeros, this time he knows Zeros are waiting in the clouds above, so he feints toward the decoys, and when the Zeros dive his airmen evade them and knock off the decoys. "Teamwork won for us today", he says. That afternoon, he leads an attack on Japanese ships bringing in more re-enforcement's for a final push to retake Henderson Field. This spells trouble, for its possession and constant repair enables the outnumbered Americans to hold onto Guadalcanal. But the field soon develops a gasoline shortage after an incoming fuel barge is blown up by enemy bombers. It is one of the blackest moments in the whole campaign, and the airmen even resort to draining fuel from wrecked planes to keep the rest in the air.
October 18th is a great day for Foss as he knocks down two Zeros and a bomber to bring his total to five and making him an "Ace". Two days later, he gets two more. Then he proves he is too lucky to die when his engine quits on takeoff and he crashes into a grove of palms. Despite a nasty head cut, he has only begun to fight! As the war intensifies, he is in the air numerous times a day. On one mission he picks off a Zero from behind another in a loop, a third in a roll and a fourth head-on to bring his score to eleven.
October 25th is another great day. Though Henderson Field is a sea of mud, Foss and his men get airborne and he brings down two Zeros. Later in the day, he gets three more, while at sea Admiral Halsey's fleet turns back Yamamoto in the Battle of Santa Cruz! On November 4th Foss helps attack warships shelling American shore position, and then picks off two enemy warplanes. But as he turns for home, his engine conks out. Putting the plane into a glide, he heads for an island. But his plane goes down five miles off shore. Freeing himself, he inflates his Mae West and begins swimming toward shore. Three hours later, at dusk, he is rescued by friendly natives and an Australian sawmill owner. The next day, he is picked up by a Navy flying boat and flown back to Guadalcanal. There Admiral Bull Halsey pins the Distinguished Flying Cross on him for his aerial exploits. He even looks like a seasoned veteran, with an old hunting cap and a fiery red beard!
By now, Foss' flight is called "Joe 's Flying Circus". One division is named the "Farm Boys" and the other the "City Slickers". Of the eight pilots, six will become aces and together they will bring down 72 enemy planes. Joe 's Flying Circus has a big day on November 12th when at 29,000 feet they spot 22 enemy bombers headed for the American fleet. The Circus goes into a dive that carries it right through a covering flight of Zeros, and right in behind the bombers, cutting loose with everything they have, they down all but one of the bombers and save the fleet from attack. Joe gets two of them. The next evening when lieutenant colonel Bauer, commander of Marine Flight squadron two-one-two goes down at sea, Joe races back to Guadalcanal to organize a rescue mission. But no trace of him is ever found. However, during the search Joe downs two more planes. This same day; Foss suffers a severe attack of malaria and a few days later is evacuated to New Caledonia. A tiny mosquito has done what the Japanese could not do - - bring down Joe Foss!
Six weeks later, he returns to action and within two days gets three Zeros to bring his total to 26. Then on his last day on the island his flight and some P-38's are scrambled to intercept nearly 100 warplanes intent on a last ditch effort to dislodge the Americans. He soon spots the enemy air armada and, after sizing up the situation, cunningly signals his men not to attack, but to stay in a very tight formation and circle continuously. As he hoped, the Japanese become suspicious that his flight is a decoy for a large number of American planes lurking overhead. They finally turn tail and drop their bombs harmlessly into the sea. It is Joe Foss' farewell to Guadalcanal and one of the greatest bluffs in the history of aerial combat!
In early 1943, Joe Foss is welcomed in Washington, D.C. as the Marine Corps' "Ace of Aces", for his 26 victories in the air has equaled that of Eddie Rickenbacker during World War I! Soon he is on tour, making radio broadcasts, visiting the Grumman Aircraft factory and giving pep talks at Annapolis and Quantico. He also goes on a nationwide war bond selling tour. Then in May, 1943, President Roosevelt presents him the Congressional Medal of Honor for outstanding heroism above and beyond the call of duty. Back to active duty, he serves as a training advisor at the Santa Barbara Marine Corps air station. Then he becomes commander of marine fighter squadron one-one-five in the South Pacific. While he does not add to his victories, he does become friends with Charles Lindbergh who had inspired him to want to fly!
With the war over, Foss continues his flying career when he is commissioned in the South Dakota Air National Guard, which he helps organize. He also opens Foss Flying Service in Sioux Falls and it does well until a fire wipes it out. Joe now turns to politics and is elected to the South Dakota House of Representatives. A popular figure, he is also asked to act as a Master of Ceremonies at beauty contests, fairs and rodeos and flying events all over the state. Then at the outbreak of the Korean War, he returns to active duty as a colonel in the Air Force and serves with its central defense zone until 1952. Then he becomes chief of staff of the South Dakota Air National Guard with the rank of Brigadier General.
In 1954, Foss is overwhelmingly elected Governor of South Dakota and two years later is elected to a second term. After that, he is elected the first commissioner of the American football league and serves until 1966, meanwhile as an avid hunter and fisherman, he hosts the weekly "American Sportsman" television show. Later he stars in the weekly TV series "The Outdoorsman - Joe Foss", and becomes a member of the elite Shikar-Safari Club International. Foss also is active on a national level for many worthwhile causes, including serving as national chairman of the society for crippled children and adults, and its Easter seal campaign.
Meanwhile, he continues his aviation activities by becoming the director of public relations for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines for six years, and also serving as chairman of the Air Force Association and a director of the Air Force Academy. In 1980, Foss was given the "Outstanding American Award" by the Los Angeles Philanthropic Foundation.
Copyright © 1997 by NAHF. All Rights Reserved.
Joseph J. Foss remains an important figure in South Dakota history. He was born on a farm outside of Sioux Falls, South Dakota on April 17, 1915. He received a degree from the University of South Dakota in 1940. Foss' service as a pilot in the United States Air Force gained him the Congressional Medal of Honor. In addition to his rank as brigadier general in the USAFR, Foss served as a major in the United States Marine Corp from 1940-1945. Foss also served in the South Dakota Air National Guard.
Following his return to South Dakota, Foss served as a member of the South Dakota House of Representatives in 1949 and 1953. He was elected for two terms as governor of South Dakota, from 1955-1959. Additional professional activities include stints as commissioner of the American Football League, as vice-president of Raven Industrites, as president of the National Rifle Association and as president of the National Society for Crippled Children and Adults from 1969-1971. He hosted his own television show entitled "The Outdoorsman: Joe Foss." Foss, along with his wife Donna Wild Foss, published A Proud American: the autobiography of Joe Foss.