Tag Archives: Ace

25 February 1975

Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, USAF, made his last flight as an active duty Air Force officer aboard a McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 25 February 1975. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, USAF, made his final flight as an active duty Air Force officer aboard a McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 25 February 1975. (U.S. Air Force)

25 February 1975: At Edwards Air Force Base, California,  Brigadier General Charles Elwood (“Chuck”) Yeager, United States Air Force, made his final flight as an active duty Air Force pilot, flying a McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II 65-0713.¹

Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager made his final flight in the U.S Air Force in the prototype McDonnell YF-4E Phantom II 65-0713.

During his career, General Yeager flew 180 different aircraft types and accumulated 10,131.6 flight hours.

General Yeager retired 1 March 1975 after 12,222 days of military service.

McDonnell YF-4E Phantom II 65-0713 was named Glamorous Glennis for General Yeager’s Final Flight.

¹ 65-0713 was a McDonnell F-45D-28-MC Phantom II which had been modified as the prototype YF-4E, armed with an M61 rotary cannon. Later, 65-0713 was used as a test bed for the F-4G Wild Weasel. The airplane is on display at Edwards Air Force Base.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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Group Captain Sir Douglas R. S. Bader, C.B.E., D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar (February 21, 1910 – September 5, 1982)

Group Captain Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar. (Paul Laib)

21 February 1910: Group Captain Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, Royal Air Force, C.B.E., D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar, FRAeS, DL, the legendary fighter pilot of the Royal Air Force during World War II, was born at St. John’s Wood, London, England. He was the son of Frederick Roberts Bader, a civil engineer, and Jessie Scott MacKenzie Bader.

Bader attended Temple Grove School, Eastbourne, East Sussex, and St. Edward’s School in Oxford. After graduating in 1928, he joined the Royal Air Force as a cadet at the Royal Air Force College Cranwell in Lincolnshire. Bader was granted a permanent commission as a Pilot Officer, “with effect from and with seniority of 26th July 1930.”

Left to right, Pilot Officer Douglas R.S. Bader, Flight Lieutenant Harry Day and Flying Officer Geoffrey Stephenson, of No. 23 Squadron, during training for the 1931 Hendon Airshow, with a Gloster Gamecock. (RAF Museum)

Bader lost both legs in the crash of a Bristol Bulldog fighter while practicing aerobatics 14 December 1931 and was medically retired, 30 April 1933.

Following his medical retirement, Douglas Bader joined the Asiatic Petroleum Co., a subsidiary of the Koninklijke Nederlandse Petroleum Maatschappij (Royal Dutch Petroleum Company) and the Shell Transport and Trading Company.

Mrs. Douglas R. S. Bader, 1942

On 5 October 1933, Mr. Bader married Miss Olive Thelma Exley Edwards at the registry office of Hampstead Village, London. Miss Edwards was the daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Ivo Arthur Exley Edwards, R.A.F. On their fourth anniversary, 5 October 1937, a formal wedding ceremony took place at St Mary Abbots Church in Kensington, London.

In 1939, feeling that war with Germany was imminent, Bader applied to the Air Ministry for reinstatement. He was turned down, but was told that if there was a war his request might be reconsidered.

The Air Ministry did reconsider Douglas Bader’s request for reinstatement and after a medical evaluation and other tests, and on 26 November 1939, he was sent to refresher flight training at the Central Flying School where he was evaluated as “Exceptional,” a very rare qualification.

A page from Douglas Bader’s pilot log book, showing his “exceptional”evaluation. (Royal Air Force Museum)

Flying Officer Bader was posted to No. 19 Squadron, RAF Duxford, 7 February 1940. The squadron was equipped with the Supermarine Spitfire. In April, he was reassigned as flight leader of A Flight, No. 222 Squadron, also flying Spitfires from Duxford. On 24 June 1940, Bader took command of No. 242 Squadron at RAF Coltishall, Norfolk, in East Anglia. No. 242 operated the Hawker Hurricane.

Squadron Leader Douglas Bader with his Hawker Hurricane Mk. I, LE D, V7467, of No. 242 Squadron, RAF Colitshall, Norfolk, East Anglia, September 1940. (Royal Air Force)

On 24 September 1940, Flying Officer Bader was granted the war substantive rank of Flight Lieutenant.

Distinguished Service Order

On 1 October 1940, George VI, King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, appointed Acting Squadron Leader Douglas R. S. Bader a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order. The notice in The London Gazette reads,

“This officer has displayed gallantry and leadership of the highest order. During three recent engagements he has led his squadron with such skill and ability that thirty-three enemy aircraft have been destroyed. In the course of these engagements Squadron Leader Bader has added to his previous successes by destroying six enemy aircraft.”

Acting Squadron Leader Bader, D.S.O., was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross 7th January, 1941: “Squadron Leader Bader has continued to lead his squadron and wing with the utmost gallantry on all occasions. he has now destroyed a total of ten hostile aircraft and damaged several more.”

In March 1941, Acting Squadron Bader was promoted to Acting Wing Commander and assigned as Wing leader of 12 Group’s “Big Wing” at RAF Tangmere, just east of Chichester, in West Sussex. The Big Wings were large formations of three to five fighter squadrons acting together to intercept enemy bomber formations.

Acting Wing Commander Bader was awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Service Order, 15 July 1941: “This officer has led his wing on a series of consistently successful sorties over enemy territory during the past three months. His qualities of leadership and courage have been and inspiration to all. Wing Commander Bade has destroyed 15 hostile aircraft.”

Douglas Bader climbing into the cockpit of his Supermarine Spitfire.

On 9 August 1941, Bader was himself shot down while flying his Supermarine Spitfire Mk Va, serial W3185, marked “DB”, along the coast of France. His prosthetic legs caught in the cockpit and made it difficult for him to escape, but he finally broke free and parachuted to safety.

Transcript of message giving status of Bader and requesting a replacement prosthetic leg. (from Bader’s Last Flight: An In-Depth Investigation of a Great WWII Mystery, by Andy Saunders, Frontline Books, 2007, Appendix L at Page 214)

Bader was captured and held as a prisoner of war. He was initially held at a hospital in occupied France and it was there that he met and became a life long friend of Adolf Galland, also a legendary fighter pilot—but for the other side! After arrangements were made for replacement legs, Bader escaped.

Adolph Galland arranged for a replacement prosthetic leg for Bader to be airdropped at a Luftwaffe airfield at St. Omer, in occupied France.

On 9 September 1941, Acting Wing Commander Bader was awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross. “This fearless pilot has recently added a further four enemy aircraft to his previous successes; in addition he has probably destroyed another four and damaged five hostile aircraft. By his fine leadership and high courage Wing Commander Bader has inspired the wing on every occasion.”

Prisoners of War held at Colditz Castle, a maximum security prison during World War II. Squadron Leader Douglas Bader is seated, center.

He was recaptured and taken to the notorious Offizierslager IV-C at Schloss Colditz near Leipzing, Germany, where he was held for three years. Units of the United States Army 273rd Infantry Regiment, 69th Infantry Division, and the Combat Command Reserve, 9th Armored Division, liberated the prison 15 April 1945 after a two-day battle.

Schloss Colditz, April 1945. (United States Army)

Douglas Bader was repatriated to England. On 28 August 1945, Squadron Leader D.R.S. Bader, DSO, DFC (Ret) was promoted to Wing Commander (temp), and in September Wing Commander Bader was assigned as commanding officer of the R.A.F. Fighter Leaders School. On 1 December 1945, Wing Commander (temporary) D.R.S. Bader DSO DFC (Ret.) is granted the rank of Wing Commander (War Substantive).

On 21 July 1946, Wing Commander Bader reverted to the retired list, retaining the rank of Group Captain.

During World War II, Group Captain Bader was officially credited with 22 enemy aircraft destroyed, shared credit for another 4; 6 probably destroyed, shared credit for another probable; and 11 damaged. (26–7–11). Group Captan Bader was appointed a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur by France in 1945, and awarded the Croix d’ Guerre.

Group Captain Bader’s medals at the RAF Museum: Distinguished Service Order and Bar; Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar; 1939-1945 Star with clasp BATTLE OF BRITAIN; Air Crew Europe Star with clasp ATLANTIC; Defence Medal; War Medal 1939-45 with Mention in Despatches; Legion d’Honneur, Chevalier, badge; and Croix de Guerre 1939-1940

Bader received civil aviator’s license 3 July 1946. He returned to work for Shell in a management position which involved considerable travel. He flew the company’s Percival Proctor around Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He remained with Shell until 1969, having risen to managing director of Shell Aircraft International.

Bader with a Percival Proctor which he flew while working for Shell.

In the years following World War II, he also worked unceasingly to better the lives of other disabled persons. He would tell them,

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do this or that. That’s nonsense. Make up your mind, you’ll never use crutches or a stick, then have a go at everything. Go to school, join in all the games you can. Go anywhere you want to. But never, never let them persuade you that things are too difficult or impossible.

In the New Year’s Honours, 2 January 1956, Douglas Bader was appointed an Ordinary Commander of the Most Excellent Order (C.B.E.), by Her Majesty The Queen, for services to the disabled.

He was the subject of Reach For The Sky, (Collins, London, 1954) a biography written by Paul Brickhill, who also wrote The Great Escape. (Brickhill had been a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft III.) In 1956, a movie of the same name was released, starring Kenneth More as Bader. Bader was the author of Fight For The Sky: The Story of the Spitfire and Hurricane (Sidgwick and Jackson, London, 1973).

Bader and companion in his 1938 MG TA Midget roadster, circa 1945. He was the original owner, but sold it in 1948. This car was recently offered for sale by Bonham’s.(Getty Images)

Thelma Bader died in 1971 at the age of 64 years. The couple had been married for 38 years.

Bader later married Mrs. Joan Eileen Hipkiss Murray. She had three children from a previous marriage, Wendy, Michael and Jane Murray.

4 June 1976: The London Gazette announced that The Queen would confer the Honour of Knighthood on Group Captain Robert Steuart Bader, C.B.E., D.S.O., D.F.C., “For services to disabled people.”

Sir Douglas Bader, Knight Bachelor, and Lady Bader, 1976. (Daily Mail)

Group Captain Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, CBE, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, FRAeS, DL, passed away 5 September 1982, at the age of 72 years.

Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, by Godfrey Argent, 12 May 1970. (© National Portrait Gallery, London)
Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, by Godfrey Argent, 12 May 1970. (National Portrait Gallery, London)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 February 1952

Major George Andrew Davis, Jr., United States Air Force. (1 December 1920–10 February 1952)
Major George Andrew Davis, Jr., United States Air Force. (1 December 1920–10 February 1952)

MEDAL OF HONOR

GEORGE ANDREW DAVIS, JR.

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to Major George Andrew Davis, Jr. (ASN: 0-671514/13035A), United States Air Force, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 334th Fighter Squadron, 4th Fighter Wing, Fifth Air Force in action against enemy forces near Sinuiju-Yalu River, Korea, on 10 February 1952. While leading a flight of four F-86 Saberjets on a combat aerial patrol mission near the Manchurian border, Major Davis’ element leader ran out of oxygen and was forced to retire from the flight with his wingman accompanying him. Major Davis and the remaining F-86’s continued the mission and sighted a formation of approximately twelve enemy MIG-15 aircraft speeding southward toward an area where friendly fighter-bombers were conducting low level operations against the Communist lines of communications. With selfless disregard for the numerical superiority of the enemy, Major Davis positioned his two aircraft, then dove at the MIG formation. While speeding through the formation from the rear he singled out a MIG-15 and destroyed it with a concentrated burst of fire. Although he was now under continuous fire from the enemy fighters to his rear, Major Davis sustained his attack. He fired at another MIG-15 which, bursting into smoke and flames, went into a vertical dive. Rather than maintain his superior speed and evade the enemy fire being concentrated on him, he elected to reduce his speed and sought out still a third MIG-15. During this latest attack his aircraft sustained a direct hit, went out of control, then crashed into a mountain 30 miles south of the Yalu River. Major Davis’ bold attack completely disrupted the enemy formation, permitting the friendly fighter-bombers to successfully complete their interdiction mission. Major Davis, by his indomitable fighting spirit, heroic aggressiveness, and superb courage in engaging the enemy against formidable odds exemplified valor at its highest.

General Orders: Department of the Air Force, General Orders No. 20 (April 30, 1954)

Action Date: February 10, 1952

Service: Air Force

Rank: Major

Company: 334th Fighter Squadron

Regiment: 4th Fighter Wing

Division: 5th Air Force

Captain George A. Davis, Jr., USAAF, in the cockpit of his North American Aviation P-51K-10-NT Mustang, 44-12085, during World War II.
Captain George A. Davis, Jr., USAAF, in the cockpit of his North American Aviation P-51K-10-NT Mustang, 44-12085, during World War II.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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Francis Stanley Gabreski (28 January 1919–31 January 2002)

Lieutenant Colonel Francis Stanley Gabreski, United States Army Air Forces. (Getty Images)

28 January 1919: Colonel Francis Stanley (“Gabby”) Gabreski, United States Air Force, was born at Oil City, Pennsylvania. He was the second child of Stanislaw Gabryszewski, a railroad car repairer, and Jozefa Kapica Gabryszewsky, both immigrants from Poland. He attended Oil City High School, graduating in 1938.

Francis Gabreski, 1940. (The Dome)

After two years of study at the University of Notre Dame, on 28 Francis S. Gabreski enlisted as a Flying Cadet, Air Corps, United States Army, at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was 5 feet, 8 inches (172.7 centimeters) tall and weighed 146 pounds (66.2 kilograms). After completeing flight training, on 14 March 1941, Gabreski was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Air  Reserve.

Lieutenant Gabreski was assigned as a fighter pilot with the 45th Pursuit Squadron, 15th Pursuit Group, at Wheeler Army Airfield, Territory of Hawaii. He flew  Curtiss P-36 Hawks and P-40 Warhawks. Whiel at Wheeler, Gabreski met his future wife, Miss Catherine Mary Cochran. They planned to marry, but this was delayed  when the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Hawaii on 7 December 1941.

On 1 March 1942, Gabreski was promoted to first lieutenant, Air Corps, Army of the United States (A.U.S.), and then to captain, 16 October 1942. Captain Gabreski was sent to Britain with the 56th Fighter Group.

Because of his Polish lineage and his fluency in the language, Gabreski requested assignment to a Polish fighter squadron fighting with the Royal Air Force. His request was approved and he was assigned to No. 315 Squadron, based at RAF Northolt, London, England, where he flew the Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IX. (One of those Spitfires, Spitfire Mk.IXc BS410, is currently under restoration at the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar.)

Captain Francis S. Gabreski, U.S. Army Air Corps, in the cockpit of his Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IX, PK E, BS410, with No. 315 Squadron, Royal Air Force, at RAF Northolt, England, 1943. This airplane was shot down 13 May 1943. It is currently under restoration. (Royal Air Force)

As American involvement in the European Theater increased, “Gabby” returned to the 61st Fighter Squadron, 56th Fighter Group, and flew the Republic P-47C Thunderbolt. He was promoted to the rank of Major, 19 July 1943.

Major Gabreski was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, 23 January 1944. He took command of the 61st Fighter Squadron on 13 April 1944.

Lieutenant Colonel Francis S. Gabreski, commanding 61st Fighter Squadron, in the cockpit of his Republic P-47D-25-RE Thunderbolt, 42-26418, 1944. The marks indicate 28 enemy aircraft destroyed. (American Air Museum in Britain)

By July 1944, he had shot down 28 enemy fighters in aerial combat and destroyed another three on the ground, making him the leading American fighter ace up to that time.

Lieutenant Colonel Gabreski’s Republic P-47D-25-RE Thunderbolt, 42-26418, RAF Boxted, Essex, England, 1944. (U.S. Air Force 68268 A.C./American Air Museum in Britain UPL 33594)
Lieutenant Colonel Gabreski, at right, with the ground crew of his Republic P-47D Thunderbolt, circa July 1944. Left to right, crew chief, Staff Sergeant Ralph H. Safford,of Ionia, Michigan; assistant crew chief Corporal Felix Schacki, Gary, Indiana; and armorer Sergeant Michael Di Franza, East Boston, Massachussetts. (American Air Museum in Britain)
Lieutenant Colonel Gabreski (standing, just left of center) with the pilots of the 61st Fighter Squadron, July 1944. (American Air Museum in Britain)

Having 193 combat missions and waiting transport to the United States, on 20 July 1944 Gabreski decided to take “just one more.” As he made a low strafing run across an enemy airfield near Bassenheim, Germany, the tips of his propeller blades hit the ground, causing a severe vibration. He put his Thunderbolt down on its belly, climbed out and ran to avoid being captured. He was caught after evading the enemy for five days, and was held as a Prisoner of War at Stalag Luft I until April 1945.

Two German officers stand on the wing of Lieutenant Colonel Gabreski’s P-47D-25-RE Thunderbolt, 42-26418, near Bassenheim, Germany. (Luftwaffe)
Lieutenant Colonel Gabreski’s P-47D-25-RE Thunderbolt, 42-26418, near Bassenheim, Germany. (Luftwaffe)

Gabreski was promoted to the rank of Colonel, Army of the United States, 24 October 1945. He was released from active duty in September 1946. He then joined the Air National Guard with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, 6 December 1946.

Gabreski resumed his college education, enrolling as one of the first students at the School of General Studies of  Columbia University in 1947. He graduated with a bachelor of arts degree (B.A.) in political science, in 1949.

During the the Korean War, Lieutenant Colonel Gabreski served with the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing and commanded the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing. Between 8 July 1951 and 13 April 1952, he is credited with shooting down 6.5 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 15 fighters with North American Aviation F-86A and F-86E Sabres. (The “.5” represents credit shared with another pilot for one enemy airplane destroyed, 20 February 1952.) Gabreski flew 100 combat missions over Korea.

Colonel Gabreski in the cockpit of a North American Aviation F-86E Sabre, Korea, 1952.

After an assignment as Chief of Combat Operations, Office of the Deputy Inspector General, at Norton Air Force Base in southern California, Colonel Gabreski attended the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama. He was then assigned as Deputy Chief of Staff, Ninth Air Force.

He went on to command two tactical fighter wings, the 354th and the 18th, flying North American Aviation F-100 Super Sabres.

Colonel Gabreski’s final fighter command was the 52nd Fighter Wing (Air Defense) based at Suffolk County Airport, New York, which was equipped with the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo interceptor.

Colonel Francis Stanley Gabreski, United States Air Force. (Imperial War Museum FRE 13934)

Colonel Gabreski retired from the Air Force 1 November 1967 after 27 years of service and 37.5 enemy aircraft destroyed. At the time of his retirement, he had flown more combat missions than any other U.S. Air Force fighter pilot.

Lieutenant Colonel and Mrs. Francis S. Gabreski, 11 June 1945. (andrezejburlewicz.blog)

Gabby Gabreski married Miss Catherine Mary (“Kay”) Cochran, 11 June 1945, at Our Lady of the Angels Chapel, Campion College, Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. They would have nine children. Two of their sons graduated from the United States Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colorado, and became U.S. Air Force pilots. His daughter-in-law, Lieutenant General Terry L. Gabreski, USAF, was the highest-ranking woman in the United States Air Force at the time of her retirement. Mrs Gabreski died in a car accident in 1993.

Colonel Gabreski was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in combat on 26 November 1943, when he shot down two enemy Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters. His other decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star with oak leaf cluster (two awards), Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with two silver and bronze oak leaf clusters (thirteen awards), Bronze Star, Air Medal with one silver and one bronze oak leaf cluster (seven awards), and Prisoner of War Medal. He was awarded the Royal Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross, France’s Légion d’honneur and Croix de Guerre with Palm, Poland’s Krzyż Walecznych and the Belgian Croix de Guerre with Palm.

In 1991, Suffolk County Airport, New York, was renamed Francis S. Gabreski Airport in his honor.

Colonel Gabreski died  31 January 2002 at the age of 83 years. He is buried at Calverton National Cemetery, Long Island, New York.

Lieutenant Colonel Francis Stanley Gabreski, United States Air Force, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, standing in the cockpit of his North American Aviation F-86E Sabre, Korea, ca. 1952. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel Francis Stanley Gabreski. Fighter Pilot. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 October 1942–15 January 1943

Captain Joseph Jacob Foss, United States Marine Corps
Captain Joseph Jacob Foss, United States Marine Corps Reserve

13 October 1942–15 January 1943: During a 95-day period in the early days of World War II, Captain Joe Foss, United States Marine Corps, shot down 26 enemy aircraft. He was the first American ace of World War II to match the World War I record of Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker.

Admiral William F. Halsey, U.S. Navy, awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross to Captain Foss for heroism and extraordinary achievement for having shot down seven enemy airplanes (six fighters and a bomber) from 13 October to 30 October 1942.

Joseph Jacob Foss was born near Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 17 April 1915. He was the oldest son of Frank Ole Foss, a farmer, and Mary Esther Lacey Foss. He was educated at Washington High School, Augustan College, Sioux Falls College and the University of South Dakota, graduating in 1940, having majored in Business Administration.

Beginning in 1938, Joe Foss began taking flight lessons. Through a Civil Aeronautics Administration course at the university, he gained additional flight experience, and received a private pilot certificate from the C.A.A.

2nd Lieutenant Joe Foss, USMCR, Naval Aviator
Lieutenant Joe Foss, USMCR, Naval Aviator

Foss had enlisted in the South Dakota National Guard in 1937, serving as a private assigned to the 147th Field Artillery Battalion until he joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, 14 June 1940. Because of his prior service, the following day, Private Foss was promoted to private first class, and assigned to active duty as a aviation flight student. He successfully completed elimination flight training and qualified as an aviation cadet.

On 8 August 1940, Aviation Cadet Foss was sent to the Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, for pilot training. After graduating, 31 March 1941, Joseph Jacob Foss was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps Reserve, and received the gold wings of a Naval Aviator.

Lieutenant Foss remained at Pensacola, assigned as a flight instructor. He was promoted to 1st lieutenant, 10 April 1942, with date of rank retroactive to 31 March 1942. His next assignment was to the Naval School of Photography, also located at Pensacola, and then to Marine Photographic Squadron 1 (VMD-1) at NAS North Island, San Diego, California, July 1942.

Lieutenant Foss requested training as a fighter pilot but he was considered to be too old. (He was 26.) While at San Diego, though, Foss was able to transition to the Grumman F4F Wildcat. He was promoted to the rank of captain, 11 August 1942. He was assigned to Marine Fighter Squadron 121 (VMF-121) as the unit’s executive officer.

Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, circa 1942. (U.S. Navy)

VMF-121 was sent to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands aboard USS Copahee (ACV-12), a Bogue-class escort carrier. While still about 350 miles away from the island, the squadron was launched for Henderson Field, 9 October 1942. Joe Foss flew his first combat mission 13 October during which he shot down a Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter (Allied reporting name, “Zeke”). His F4F Wildcat was badly damaged by enemy fighters.

Captain Foss and ammo loaders
Captain Joseph J. Foss, USMCR, in the cockpit of a Grumman F4F Wildcat, circa 1943. (Getty Images/Bettmann 515466188)

Captain Foss had extraordinary gunnery skills and frequently shot down more than one enemy aircraft per mission. His combat victories included nineteen Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters, a Nakajima A6M2-N “Rufe” (a float plane variant of the Zero), three Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” medium bombers, two Mistsubishi F1M2 “Pete” reconnaissance float planes and an Aichi E13A “Jake” reconnaissance float plane.

During the his three month period, Captain Foss had to make three engine out landings as a result of damage sustained by his Wildcat from enemy aircraft, and was himself shot down near the island of Malaita. He was rescued by local fishermen.

Joe Foss was stricken by malaria and was sent to Australia for treatment. In April 1943 he was returned to the United States and assigned to Headquarters Marine Corps at Washington, D.C.

In a ceremony at the White House, 18 May 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented Captain Foss the Medal of Honor.

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Captain Joseph J. Foss, United States Marine Corps, with a Grumman F4F Wildcat. (USMC History Division)
Captain Joseph J. Foss, United States Marine Corps, with a Grumman F4F Wildcat. (USMC History Division)

Joe Foss was promoted to the rank of major, 1 June 1943. On 17 July took command of Marine Fighter Squadron 115 (VMF-115), then training at Marine Corps Air Station Santa Barbara, Goleta, California. The new fighter squadron was equipped with Chance Vought F4U-1 and Goodyear FG-1 Corsairs. The squadron departed San Diego, California, 13 February 1944 aboard USS Pocomoke (AV-9), a seaplane tender, and arrived at Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides on 4 March. The fighters flew to a new base at Emirau in the Bismarck archipelago on 2 May and VMF-115 was assigned to Marine Air Group 12. The unit was in combat the following day. In the last half of the month, the squadron was visited by Col. Charles A Lindbergh. He flew four combat missions with VMF-115, 26–30 May.

Marine Fighter Squadron 115 (VMF-115) at MCAS Santa Barbara, Goleta, California, 1944. Major Joe Foss is in th e center of the back row, wearing flight helmet with goggles, standing in front the of Corsair's propeller blade.
Marine Fighter Squadron 115 (VMF-115) at MCAS Santa Barbara, Goleta, California, 1944. Major Joe Foss is in the center of the back row, wearing flight helmet with goggles, standing in front the of Corsair’s propeller blade.

Major Foss had a recurrence of malaria. On 21 September 1944, he was relieved of command of VMF-115 and returned to the United States for medical treatment, assigned to NAS Klamath Falls. In February 1945, he was back at MCAS Santa Barbara as an operations and training officer.

Major Joe Foss was released from active duty on 8 December 1945. On 20 September 1946 Foss was appointed a lieutenant colonel in the South Dakota Air National Guard. His resignation from the Marine Corps, dated 29 January 1947, was accepted as effective 19 September 1946. He commanded the 175th Fighter Squadron, which was equipped with the North American P-51D Mustang.

North American Aviation F-51D Mustang, 175th Fighter Squadron, South Dakota Air National Guard.
North American Aviation P-51D-25-NA Mustang 44-73564, 175th Fighter Squadron, South Dakota National Guard, 1946. (U.S. Air Force)

The 175th was redesignated as a Fighter Interceptor Squadron in 1951. Colonel Foss was recalled to active duty in the Air Force during the Korean War. He served as Director of Operations and Training, Air Defense Command, and was promoted to brigadier general, 20 September 1953. The 175th FIS began re-equipping with the Lockheed F-94A Starfire in 1 November 1954. In 1958, the squadron shifted to the Northrop F-89 Scorpion, and then the Convair F-102A Delta Dagger in 1960. Ten years later, North American Aviation F-100D Super Sabres came to the 175th.

Northrop F-89D-30-NO Scorpion, South Dakota Air National Guard.
Northrop F-89D-30-NO Scorpion 51-11419, an all-weather interceptor assigned to the South Dakota Air National Guard, at Sioux Falls, 1958. The nose cone of the right wing tip-mounted pod has been removed to show the fifty-two 2.75-inch Folding Fin Aerial Rockets. (John Mollison, SDANG)

While all this was happening, Joe Foss was involved in a political career. After serving two terms in the state legislature, Joseph J. Foss was elected Governor of the State of South Dakota in November 1954. The state’s 20th governor, he was the youngest to hold that office. He was elected a second time and served until 1959. He also served as a commissioner of the American Battle Monuments Commission.

Joe Foss was Commissioner of the American Football League and President of the National Rifle Association.

Brigadier General Joseph J. Foss, United States Air Force
Brigadier General Joseph J. Foss, United States Air Force

Brigadier General Joseph J. Foss, U.S. Air Force, Air Chief of Staff, South Dakota Air National Guard, retired from military service, 15 April 1975. He had been awarded the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with two 516-inch gold stars (three awards), Presidential Unit Citation (Air Force) with oak leaf cluster (second award), Presidential Unit Citation (Navy and Marine Corps) with bronze star (second award), American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two bronze stars (three campaigns), the World War II Victory Medal and the National Defense Service Medal with bronze star (second award), Air Force Longevity Service Ribbon with oak leaf cluster, Armed Forces Reserve Medal with silver hourglass device (20 years service), and the Air Force Small Arms Expert Marksman Ribbon.

Joseph Jacob Foss died at Scottsdale, Arizona, 1 January 2003. He was 87 years old. General Foss is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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