Foss, j ma.jpg
Induction Category & YearGeneral 1978
Home TownSioux Falls, SD
BirthApril 17, 1915
Sioux Falls, SD
DeathJanuary 1, 2003
Arlington National Cemetery

   Joseph Foss
Champion of Excellence

Legends Bio
 Patriotic, heroic, and courageous describe Joseph Jacob Foss who was born on a farm near Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on April 17, 1915. He was a decorated WWII fighter pilot in the United States Marine Corps who went on to become South Dakota’s youngest governor. Joe was the first commissioner of the American Football League, a television broadcaster, the president of the National Rifle Association, and a brigadier general in the United States Air Force.

Joe’s young life was spent on the family farm. When he was 11 years old, his father took him to an air show at a local airfield. There they saw Joe’s hero, Charles Lindbergh, with his plane the Spirit of St. Louis. Four years later he and his father paid $1.50 each to take their first airplane ride. From then on Joe’s biggest dream was to become a pilot. When he was 17 years old, he dropped out of college to help his mother run the farm after his father’s tragic death. While working on the farm, Joe scraped together enough money to take flying lessons. Eventually Joe’s younger brother took over the farm, and Joe returned to the University of South Dakota and graduated with a business degree and a civilian pilot’s license. After graduation Joe enlisted in the United States Marine Corp Reserves as an aviation cadet. He went to Pensacola, Florida, where he earned his Marine wings. He went on to become a flight instructor and was placed in charge of base security. After Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese, Foss was assigned to a photo reconnaissance squadron. Unhappy with this assignment, Joe insisted he be assigned to fighter pilot duty. At 27, he was told he was too old to be a fighter pilot. Joe was determined to prove his superiors wrong, and, after training on an F4F Wildcat, was sent to the South Pacific. Joe and his fighter wing, called “Foss’s Flying Circus,” made history at Guadalcanal in the South Pacific! They flew over 60 missions with Joe leading the squadron. He became flying ace in the first week, downing 5 Japanese planes, and within 6 weeks he had downed 19, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross. By January 1943, Foss and his Flying Circus were credited with destroying 72 Japanese planes, and Foss was given credit for 26 of those. As a war hero, Foss was called back to Washington, DC, to sell U.S. War Bonds to help finance the war effort. Joe’s picture appeared on the cover of Life magazine. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor (the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government) by President Franklin Roosevelt. The President said these words in his presentation to Joe: “…His remarkable flying skill, inspiring leadership and indomitable fighting spirit were distinctive factors in the defense of strategic American positions on Guadalcanal.” Between the years of 1944-1954, he helped organize the South Dakota Air National Guard, served two terms in the South Dakota House of Representatives, and returned to the military to serve in the Korean War.

Joe Foss became governor of South Dakota in 1955 by an overwhelming majority of votes. After serving as governor, Joe ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives against George McGovern, but he lost. Joe became the first Commissioner of the American Football League and helped create the Super Bowl. He also starred in his own television show called The Outdoorsman, Joe Foss. Some of his later accomplishments included president of the National Rifle Association, founder of the Joe Foss Institute, Director of Public Affairs for Royal Dutch Airlines, International Chairman of Campus Crusade for Christ, and co-author of Top Gun and A Proud American. Joe Foss’s dream of becoming a pilot as a child led him to become a true American war hero. His courage and patriotism guided him to serve both his state and country.
aviation the design, use, or operation of an airplane
civilian citizen who is not a member of the armed forces
commissioner the administrative head of a sport
courageous ability to face danger without being overcome by fear
heroic to have great bravery, courage, or determination
indomitable brave, determined, and impossible to defeat
patriotic supporting or defending your country
reconnaissance to gather information especially about the strength of an enemy
squadron an organized group of pilots flying 2 or more flights
superiors higher in rank, position, or authority than another
Extended Activities

Go to the Wikipedia entry for Joe Foss to see the medals Joe Foss earned during his military career. Scroll down to Decorations to take a closer look at his special awards. Design a medal of achievement that could be presented to someone in your school. Try to include the following:

Unique medal design and color Explanation of what each symbol or part in your design represents A nomination form for the recipients of this medal

(What are the requirements for earning this medal?)

Common Core Standards 4.W.2. (ELA) • 4.W.7 (ELA) • 4.SL.4 (ELA)

SD Standards

Create a timeline of Joe’s life and achievements. Design your own timeline or try using the Timeline Maker. Use some of the links from Links/Sources to help you learn more about Joe’s life.

Common Core Standards 4.RI.1 (ELA) • 4.RI.2 (ELA) • 4.RI.7 (ELA) • 4.W.6 (ELA)

SD Standards

Write a poem about Joe Foss. Try “Noun + Adjective + Phrase = Poem” or another form you like at Instant Poetry Forms.

Common Core Standards 4.W.9 (ELA) • 4.RL.5 (ELA) • 4.L.5 (ELA)

SD Standards

Joe Foss served as South Dakota’s governor from 1955 to 1959. Do you know any other governors of our state? Go to Governors of South Dakota, Former State Governors, or List of South Dakota Governors to learn about other governors in our state’s history. Pick out one of your favorites and create a web to show what you learn. Start with the governor’s name and then add details. Try using the Webbing Tool or create the web on your own.

Common Core Standards 4.RI.3 (ELA) • 4.RI.7 (ELA)

SD Standards

Find out about the F4F Wildcat plane that Joe Foss flew at Compare Aircraft to compare Joe’s plane to Japanese planes of WWII. Joe’s plane was called the Grumman F4F Wildcat. One of the Japanese planes was Mitsubishi A6M Reisen. Create a table to show what you learned about these two planes. Can you find other Japanese planes from WWII to compare to the F4F?

Common Core Standards 4.RI.7 (ELA)

SD Standards

How fast did WWII planes go? Go to Top 10 Favorite Aircraft to find out about the speed, size, etc. of aircraft from this time. Create several math story problems using this information to challenge your classmates.

Common Core Standards 4.OA.3 (Math) • 4.NBT.4 (Math) • 4.NBT.5 (Math) • 4.NBT.6

SD Standards

Do you know what are the duties and responsibilities of a state’s governor? Go to The Role of the Governor and watch nine videos that will help you learn about this position. When you are done, print off the Governor’s Quiz or go to The Role of the Governor quiz to show what you have learned.

Common Core Standards

SD Standards

Leadership: General Joe Foss

Joe Foss, a Tribute

General Joe Foss
Image Gallery
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Home Town (Sioux Falls, SD)
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