Gathering of Eagles Foundation

Honored as an Eagle in:

1982 1985 1990 1997 2000 2002

Eagle Biography

Joseph J. Foss

Joe Foss, "the Flying Marine," was the first American to tie Eddie Rickenbacker's World War I record of 26 aerial victories. By the time he graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1940, Foss had developed an intense interest in aviation and had logged more than 100 flying hours. He was already a Marine Corps pilot when America entered World War II, and his first fight was just getting into combat, for he was considered too old for fighters.

He was finally assigned to fly Grumman F4F Wildcats with Marine Fighter Squadron VMF-121. Captain Foss was squadron executive officer when the unit deployed to Henderson Field as part of Guadalcanal's "Cactus Air Force" (named after the Navy code word for the besieged island). In the heated contest for Guadalcanal between 9 October and 19 November 1942, he shot down 23 Japanese aircraft--one quarter of his squadron's victories! Following a month-long break from combat, he closed out his score with three additional kills.

On 25 January 1943, he led his "Flying Circus" flight of eight F4Fs, plus four Army P-38s, in a clever ruse against the enemy. Facing upwards of 100 Zeros and bombers, the 12 Americans stayed "in the sun" and refused to fight. The Japanese, believing the Wildcats to be merely the "bait" of a much larger American force, aborted their attack, jettisoned their bombs harmlessly into the sea, and headed home. Altogether, Captain Foss led his flight's two divisions--the "Farm Boys" and the "City Slickers "--to a total of 73 aerial victories, with six of the eight pilots becoming aces. In the spring of 1943, he was reassigned stateside where President Roosevelt awarded him the Medal of Honor.

Additionally, he was selected as one of that year's "Ten Most Outstanding Young Men in America" and was featured as the cover story of a leading magazine. Discharged after the war as a major, Foss returned to South Dakota and helped organize the state's Air National Guard. He was promoted to brigadier general in 1953 and became Chief of Staff, South Dakota Air National Guard. General Foss later served two terms as governor of the state and, in 1960, was named the first commissioner of the newly organized American Football League. Following this position, he became Director of Public Affairs for KLM Airlines and served as President and Chairman of the Board of the Air Force Association. A member of the Aviation Hall of Fame, General Foss also serverd as the International Chairman of "Here's Life, World" of the Campus Crusade for Christ.

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All but three of Joe Foss' 26 kills came in the incredibly short span of 42 days. On 23 October 1942, he bagged four Japanese Zeros, a 1-day tally that he would surpass only 2 days later. On the morning of the 25th, Foss got his First Zero of the day when it pulled up right in front of him. Realizing his error, the enemy pilot judiciously bailed out just as Foss began to fire. He destroyed his second Zero in a head-on attack. That afternoon the Wildcats scrambled again, and Foss quickly knocked two more "Zekes" out of the sky. He then nailed his fifth aircraft of the day in the middle of the Japanese pilot's ill-timed victory roll. No one could claim that "the Flying Marine" was too old for fighters!

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