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Joseph Jacob Foss

Foss, Joseph Jacob

Enshrined 1984 1915-2003


Born on a farm near Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Foss first became interested in aviation when Lindbergh visited Sioux Falls after his solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927. Then in 1932 he was further smitten when a squadron of Marine Corps planes put on an aerial exhibition. After he took his first joy ride in 1934, he knew flying was for him. After attending Augustana College and Sioux Falls College, he paid $65 on the installment plan to learn to fly. Then in 1939, he enrolled in the University of South Dakota, where he helped organize a Civilian Pilot Training Program and learned to fly again.

After the outbreak of World War II in Europe, Foss enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves as an aviation cadet. After he graduated from college in 1940 with a degree in business administration, he began his flight training at World-Chamberlin Field in Minneapolis. Then he was transferred to the Naval Air Station at Pensacola, Florida, for his advanced flight training. After he earned his wings there, he served as a flight instructor at Pensacola. Then, after the United States entered World War II, he was sent to an aerial photographer school at Miami, Florida. Upon completing this school, he was assigned to a Marine reconnaissance squadron at San Diego, California. However, at his insistence, he was assigned as executive officer of Marine Fighter Squadron VMF-121. Three weeks later, he and his squadron were on their way to the Southwest Pacific. There they were ordered to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands to help wrest it from the Japanese. After the squadron was established on Henderson Field, he led his flight into combat. In the days that followed, he demonstrated unusual skill in the air and he and his flight were instrumental in helping to begin driving the enemy from the island. During the next few months, he scored 23 aerial victories before malaria put him temporarily out of action. Six weeks later he was back in the air and scored three more victories, tying the record of Captain Eddie Rickenbacker during World War I and making him the Marine Corps’ leading Ace. For these achievements, President Roosevelt presented him the Congressional Medal of Honor. Then after serving at the Santa Barbara Naval Air Station in California, he returned to the South Pacific as commander of Marine Fighter Squadron 115.

After the war, Foss helped organize the South Dakota Air National Guard, in which he eventually rose to the rank of Brigadier General. Meanwhile he was elected to two terms in the South Dakota legislature, and then he served two terms as governor of the State. During the Korean War, he served in the U.S. Air Force with the rank of Colonel. Later he was elected the first commissioner of the American Football League, and also hosted the weekly “American Sportsman” and the “Outdoorsman – Joe Foss” television shows. He also continued his activities in aviation by serving as director of public relations for the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines for six years. He also served as chairman of the Air Force Association, and as a director of the Air Force Academy.