One of the greatest heroes of WWII and the epitome of the Greatest Generation was Joe Foss. He grew up really poor on a farm in South Dakota. He learned to hunt and was quite the outdoorsman. He did manage to enroll in the University of South Dakota and was big in all their athletic programs but had to drop out to go back and help his mother on the family farm. However, he later enrolled again and graduated with a degree in Business in 1940.
He had seen Lindbergh at an airfield when he was younger and was determined to fly. He had already scraped together enough money for flying lessons and had his civilian license, so he joined the Marine Reserves and went to flight school. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, he was Officer of the Day at Pensacola and rode around the base on his bicycle looking for Jap planes.
He was not allowed to train as a fighter pilot as he desperately wanted. They said at age 27 he was too old. He was instead assigned to an aerial photographer’s squadron. Joe just could not abide that, especially after he saw one of the new F4F Wildcats. He put up such a ruckus that they finally assigned him to a squadron of Wildcats.
He and his plane were loaded onto an aircraft carrier and sent straight across the Pacific. He arrived at just the time that we invaded Guadalcanal. The Marines captured the Japanese airfield there and set up residence. Joe’s carrier was sent straight there, and he was catapulted off for his only takeoff from a carrier. He landed on the bomb-pocked field which the Marines had named Henderson Field and became part of the Cactus Air Force on Guadalcanal.
The Japanese were determined to push them off that island. They mounted attack after attack by land, and mounted daily air strikes. They came up what was called “The Slot” between the islands to shell them from the sea. They even flew over at night to keep the guys from sleeping. The Grumman F4F was no match for the agile Japanese Zeros, but Joe Foss was absolutely ferocious. He led their daily flights and many times afternoon flights. The Japanese bombed daily with their Betty Bombers protected by their Zeros.
Joe became an ace in only 5 days. In only a few more days he had 11 kills but lost 4 Wildcats from getting shot-up because of his daring maneuvers. Because they had so few planes and even less ammunition Joe learned to get in really close before firing. The Japs made it hard to get fuel and ammunition and supplies into their base by patrolling up and down what became known as Iron Bottom Sound. Joe even led his small squadrons out to strafe the Jap destroyers and shoot down the Zeros protecting them.
Within the first 13 days, Joe had wracked-up 14 kills, and on October 25, 1942 he became the first Navy pilot to ace on enemy planes in one day.
The pilots would bathe in the river there and try to get some sleep. The men there mostly slept in the daytime since the Jap night fighters made it so hard to sleep at night. For sport, Joe and his pilot friends would roam in the jungle on afternoons they were not flying, hunting Japanese soldiers to kill. But Colonel Bauer put a stop to that since they were too valuable as pilots to risk such hunting.
After 23 victories on Guadalcanal Joe caught malaria like so many others there. Since he was so valuable, they flew him off to recuperate in Australia for a while. But they couldn’t keep this ferocious South Dakota fighter away. He went back and rejoined the Cactus Air Force and had 3 more kills for a total of 26.
His most important mission resulted in no enemy kills at all. The Japanese came with a big task force of ships and a huge contingent of Betty’s and Zeros. Joe was credited with leading a daring performance. He circled above the enemy aircraft and ships in such a way as to trick them into thinking he was leading an advance squadron of a much, much larger strike force of US planes. It resulted in the Japanese calling off their whole mission without a shot being fired.
While the war was still young, Joe was called back to the States to rally morale and stump for the War Bond selling effort. He traveled all over and was a huge success.
He already had a bunch of medals, but in May of 1943 received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Roosevelt.
In later years, Joe Foss became Governor of South Dakota. He was the first Commissioner of the American Football League. He even served as President of the National Rifle Association for 2 years.
Now to what I really wanted to tell you. A few years ago, I had the privilege of spending several days and a weekend with Joe Foss and his good friend, Roy Rogers at a Here’s Life Meeting in Palm Springs. I can attest that they are both not just strong Christians but are personally really close to the Lord.
I asked Roy Rogers if he was reared on a ranch as a cowboy out west. He told me: “Naw man, I am from Duck Run Missouri. We were so poor; the road did not even go past our house. It stopped at our house.” I said “But you are a Hollywood cowboy that has blessed so many people”. And he said, “Well, I thought that was the best route to take. My biggest step up the ladder was when I married Dale Evans, who was way farther up the ladder than I was.” Then Dales Evans, who was standing right there with us, chimed in: “Yea, and he almost lost me when I found out that he came together with all those hound dogs of his.”
Roy, and Joe Foss were big quail hunters. But I got the chance to ask Roy if he had any other hobbies than hunting quail and chasing foxes with his hound dogs. So, he told me all about his hobby of diligently collecting the songs that the early pioneers sang around their campfires at night on their wagon train trips to Oregon and California. He has collected as many of those as he could before they were lost to posterity.
I asked Joe Foss when was the last time he and Roy went quail hunting. He said last season. “When we almost lost Roy.” Then he related how they were getting lots of quail one afternoon when they shot one quail that fell way across a creek. So Roy said: “Don’t worry I will go over and get that quail, because the dogs didn’t even see where it went down.” However, Joe Foss said that Roy never came back. He and their friend went down there and found Roy passed-out by the creek. He had turned blue and really looked bad. They got the pickup truck and loaded him in the back and headed for town. Joe said they kept watching him through the back window. They said he kept fishing around in his pocket with his finger and finally found his bottle of nitroglycerin pills and popped some in his mouth. In a few minutes he was banging in the back window of the truck wanting to go back hunting. But they took him on to the hospital.
Now let me get to the real point, and theme of this book. I asked Joe Foss, “Governor Foss, (I could have said General Foss, for he was later promoted to Brigadier General in the Air National Guard, but he liked ‘Governor’) it is for sure that God protected you in the Pacific. Time and again you were given up for lost, and here you would come back, walking out of the jungle with a stalk of bananas over your shoulder. But is there one specific occasion when it was very obvious that God’s Spirit Power just came down and saved you when everything was totally lost and there was no way out”. And he said, “Yes there was, Ronald, there certainly was”. So, I asked him to tell me and my group of friends there about it.
So, Governor Foss said that late one evening off a strongly held Japanese island his plane got all shot-up. His engine sputtered and quit. He glided low way off the end of that island and ditched in the water. He managed to get out and into his little yellow life raft just as it was getting dark. He knew that the Japanese saw him go down and that, in the morning, they would be coming for him. They knew who he was as flight leader on all those raids and air battles. He had heard about their torture tactics. He knew that they would not give him a quick death, but what was going to happen to him could be described as worse than death. So, he floated there in the water dreading tomorrow morning.
Something else happened, though, as he splashed into the water just before dark. Some natives on that island, who really hated the Japanese, saw him go down, also. He was quite a way out there, but they rowed all the way out in their outrigger canoes and were able to find him in the total darkness. They took him back and hid him, and then passed him along to other natives until he finally got back to his unit.
Governor Joe said you could consider that a fortuitous accident, but that he considered it a divine, lifesaving, intervention of God on his behalf.