|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.
|Home Town (Sioux Falls, SD)|