AMERICAN ACE: THE JOE FOSS STORY
Joe Foss - World War II
ace, Medal of Honor winner, governor, football commissioner, TV show host, business
executive - is one of South Dakotas most famous sons.
His story is the focus of AMERICAN ACE: THE JOE FOSS STORY, a
production of South Dakota Public Television.
Foss, born to a South Dakota farm family in 1915, fell in love
with airplanes as a boy. After his father died, this young man, still in his teens, put
his dreams away to keep the family farm running. When his younger brother took over, he
went on to college and learned to fly. He joined the Marines, and earned his wings at age
26, but was told he was too old to be a fighter pilot. But Foss persevered, getting his
chance just months after Pearl Harbor.
Foss proved himself over Guadalcanal. In just six weeks, he shot
down 23 Japanese planes. A couple of months later, he added three more. He earned
international fame and the Medal of Honor.
After the war, he returned to South Dakota, starting a business,
running for office and becoming Governor in 1955. His next claim to fame was as the first
Commissioner of the American Football League. He went on to host two popular sports shows
for television, excel as a business executive and support many charities and
AMERICAN ACE: THE JOE FOSS STORY is supported in part by a grant
from the South Dakota Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the
Humanities. Viewers Guides and Teachers Guides are available from SDPBs
Educational Services by calling 1-800-456-0766 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Son of South Dakota
Joseph Jacob Foss was born
on April 17, 1915, in Sioux Falls, S.D., to a farm family near South Dakotas largest
city. Farm life was hard in the 20s and 30s and it was there young Foss
learned the value of hard work and developed his skills as an outdoorsman.
At age 16, Foss, already entranced with aviation pioneer Charles
Lindbergh, fell in love with airplanes after he and his father took a ride with a famed
South Dakota aviator, Clyde Ice.
Two years later, Fosss father died and the young man was
stretched thin, trying to farm, hold down odd jobs and go to college. Economics won out,
and the next year he dropped out of school. He farmed and did odd jobs until his younger
brother was able to take over the farm.
He went back to school - Sioux Falls College and the
University of South Dakota - and managed to eke out enough extra cash to take flying
lessons. He joined the National Guard to hone his aviation skills and joined the Marines
his senior year.
At age 26, he earned his wings, but was deemed too old to be a
fighter pilot. But he was determined, eventually working his way into a carrier group. His
first combat assignment was Guadalcanal.
His aerial marksmanship with the "Cactus Air Force"
during that long and bloody combat for Henderson Field earned him international fame.
Fosss war was over for a while after he shot down his 26th
enemy plane. He returned to the home front to promote the war effort. After being
presented the Medal of Honor, Foss returned to the Pacific in 1944 to work in search and
destroy missions. Malaria forced him to leave the Pacific in late 1944. In 1945, he left
Foss worked at odd jobs and started an aviation business and
bought a car dealership with a friend. He helped develop the South Dakota Air
National Guard and ran for State Legislature and won. He was a
member of the South Dakota House from 1949-1950 and 1953-1954. His next move was to run
for governor of South Dakota. In 1955, the GOP moderate began the first of two two-year
terms. The highlight of
his administration was the creation of a state agency to promote
business growth and economic development.
After serving as governor, Foss spent a short time working for
Raven Industries before becoming the first Commissioner of the upstart American Football
League. He helped build the league to respectability, leaving in 1966, just a few months
before the historic agreement that led to the merger of AFL and NFL and the creation of
the Super Bowl.
His next adventure, as host for the ABC network television
program "The American Sportsman," took him all over the world for hunting and
fishing excursions. Three years later, he started his own weekly syndicated series:
"The Outdoorsman: Joe Foss."
In 1972, he began a six-year stint as Director of Public Affairs
for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. From 1988 to 1990, Foss was in the spotlight again as
president of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
1/1/2003 - Foss died in Scottsdale Arizona at the age of 87.