Monday, November 19, 2012

TFH 11/19: Captain Joseph J. Foss, USMCR

Joseph Jacob Foss was born on April 17, 1915 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. After the death of his father in an electrical accident, he was forced to drop out of school at age 17 to help run the family farm. He was able to return to school, graduated, and then attended the University of South Dakota. While in college, Foss enlisted in the South Dakota National Guard and served with them from 1937 to 1940. 

After graduating from USD in 1940, and already a private pilot, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserve and entered the Naval Aviation Cadet program. Foss received his officer's commission and "wings of gold" as a Naval Aviator but at age 26, was judged to be too old to be trained as a fighter pilot. Regardless, he got himself checked out in and qualified to fly the Grumman F4F Wildcat and persisted in his desire to fly fighters. 

Finally, in June 1942 as the tempo of World War II in the Pacific increased and more fighter pilots were needed, Foss' request was granted and he joined Marine Fighter Squadron 121 (VMF-121). As VMF-121's executive officer from October 9 to November 19, 1942 during the Guadalcanal Campaign, Foss personally shot down 23 Japanese aircraft and the squadron as a whole destroyed 72. For his leadership, aerial skill, and conspicuous gallantry, he was decorated with the Medal of Honor.


Rank and organization: Captain, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Marine Fighting Squadron 121, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. Place and date: Over Guadalcanal, 9 October to 19 November 1942, 15 and 23 January 1943. Entered service at: South Dakota. Born: 17 April 1915, Sioux Falls, S. Dak. Citation: For outstanding heroism and courage above and beyond the call of duty as executive officer of Marine Fighting Squadron 121, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, at Guadalcanal. Engaging in almost daily combat with the enemy from 9 October to 19 November 1942, Capt. Foss personally shot down 23 Japanese planes and damaged others so severely that their destruction was extremely probable. In addition, during this period, he successfully led a large number of escort missions, skillfully covering reconnaissance, bombing, and photographic planes as well as surface craft. On 15 January 1943, he added 3 more enemy planes to his already brilliant successes for a record of aerial combat achievement unsurpassed in this war. Boldly searching out an approaching enemy force on 25 January, Capt. Foss led his 8 F4F Marine planes and 4 Army P-38's into action and, undaunted by tremendously superior numbers, intercepted and struck with such force that 4 Japanese fighters were shot down and the bombers were turned back without releasing a single bomb. His remarkable flying skill, inspiring leadership, and indomitable fighting spirit were distinctive factors in the defense of strategic American positions on Guadalcanal.

Foss served until the end of World War II, returning to civilian life after attaining the rank of Major. In 1946, he was appointed to the South Dakota Air National Guard as a Lieutenant Colonel and was one of the first officers assigned to that force as it formed. Foss left the Air National Guard as a Brigadier General.

Apart from his military service, Joe Foss also was elected as the Governor of South Dakota, holding office between 1955-1959, was the Commissioner of the American Football League (retiring shortly before the AFL-NFL merger), and also served for two years as the President of the National Rifle Association.

In late 2002, Foss suffered a major stroke and did not recover. He passed away on January 1, 2003 and rests in peace at Arlington National Cemetery. Foss' Guadalcanal squadron, now known as Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), the "Green Knights", is part of Marine Air Group 13 and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. Their home station is Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California

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