Joe Foss

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Governor’s Column: Remembering South Dakota’s Ace Joe Foss

A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:


“South Dakota draws an ace.” That was one headline following the gubernatorial election of Joe Foss. The plain-spoken, unpretentious South Dakota hero held many titles throughout his life, only one of which was “governor.”


Foss is best known as the Medal of Honor recipient who shot down 26 enemy planes in 63 days at Guadalcanal during World War II. The former governor served in the South Dakota National Guard, the Marine Corps and the South Dakota Air National Guard, which he founded.  Foss took down 20 zero fighters, four bombers and two bi-planes. Three times he had to make dead-stick landings when his engine was damaged from enemy fire. In another instance, his plane was shot down near the island of Malaita. Not a good swimmer, he was fortunate that some nearby natives rescued him. As it turned out, Foss would have ended up on a crocodile-infested beach, had he kept swimming


As governor, Foss emphasized a balanced budget and urged the increase of reserve funds, which he said should be used only in emergencies and not to increase spending. He described his role and the role of legislators as being the “hired hands of the people” and he became South Dakota’s “leading salesman,” touting the state’s low tax burden to outside businesses. Under Gov. Foss, the first-ever state-level economic development office was established.


His down-to-earth manner remained intact while in office. On one occasion, he dressed as a clown for the Shriners parade to raise money for children with disabilities. He also knew he was the governor of all South Dakotans, not just those within his political party or social class. When first elected, the Governor-Elect held a press conference where he was asked about plans for the traditional inaugural ball. Gov. Foss surprised reporters, as well as members of his staff, when he said all were invited to attend. When asked what people should wear, Foss responded, “I don’t care as long as they’re comfortable. It’ll suit me fine if the men wear overalls, cowboy gear, business suits or tuxedos.”


After serving as governor, Joe Foss went on to become the first commissioner of the NFL and president of the National Rifle Association. In 2001, he founded the Joe Foss Institute which today promotes American history, patriotism and service.


Looking back on it all, Foss concluded in his auto biography that, of all the things he had experienced, his faith was what mattered most. When asked by reporters what the highlight of his life was, he’d say, referring to heaven, “It hasn’t happened yet.”

Joe Foss

Joe Foss


In 2004, the year following his passing, the state Legislature designated April 17 as Joe Foss Day in South Dakota. The day is a working holiday to remember, as it says in the statute, “South Dakota’s favorite son and war hero.” It’s an occasion to tell the story to our children and grandchildren – the story of South Dakota’s ace.

Party Like It’s 1945

Thursday night started off as just another standard work day. I arrived, set up shop at the YMCA and went through my normal routine. During a break I received a critic message from my beloved which read more or less: “I’m bringing you a change of clothes. We are going on an adventure!” Now if any of you know me, I am a sucker for any adventure that shakes up the mundane, and gives me a good story to tell. For the next 4 hours of my shift I wracked my brain trying to deduce what would be remotely fun on a hot, humid night at 10 pm when I would be done working. Try as I might, I could not image anything, and began, to some extent, dread the impending adventure. As my shift end slowly approached, around the corner my human comes, “shit-eating-grin” on his face, waving something at me in his hand. He excitedly reveals one of my “Betty Page-esk” dresses and two tickets to the CAF Joe Foss Squadron Hangar Dance. Excitement level ORANGE! I couldn’t get done my shift fast enough.

CAF Joe Foss Squadron Hangar Dance Tickets – K Moriah Slade –

CAF Joe Foss Squadron Hangar Dance Tickets – K Moriah Slade –

Now for a little background before I go on. I have always had a passionate affinity for the military, especially the Air Force. Many members of my family have and do serve, and during my college years I attended AFROTC(Air Force Reserved Officer Training Corp) until I was medically released due to reconstructive back surgery that left me disqualified to serve. While the chance to wear a uniform was no longer there, I have always maintained a strong support for our service men and women, and love, Love, LOVE to participate in events that are hosted on base. The CAF (Commemorative Air Force) was founded in 1957 by a service pilot by the name of Lloyd Nolen and a group of service pilots from Texas. They started with a single P-51 Mustang (Pictured below) and the simple desire to maintain and preserve the craft. It quickly became evident that what they had started was so much more, and on September 6th, 1961 the CAF was formed. Dedicated to the preservation of history, the mission was to collect, preserve, and restore if necessary, an example of every type of war-bird that flew in World War II.


CAF Joe Foss Squadron Hangar Dance P-51 Mustang – K Moriah Slade –

As the organization grew, squadrons across the US formed with the same supporting mission to educate, preserve and fly these amazing war-birds. In 2013, the Joe Foss Squadron of the CAF was established and assigned a 1944 Stinson L-5B Sentinel. This aircraft originally left the US in early 1945 where is was assigned to the 71st Infantry Division. After its return, it became a part of the New York Civil Air Patrol until finding its home with the CAF Joe Foss Squadron. As a way to raise fund to help them maintain their bird, which costs roughly $12,000 a year to maintain, they have thrown the CAF Joe Foss Squadron Hangar Dance. If that isn’t a mouthful! And now we come to the 2016 dance, and all of my excitement. The theme, as always, is Party Like its 1945, and guests are strongly encouraged to dress the part, though its not required. It was hosted at the Maverick Air Center on the west side of the Sioux Falls Regional Airport with the dance starting at 7 with music, snacks and beverages till 11pm. The event was sponsored by several local businesses (listed below) and hosted a 13 piece swing band (Gale Pifer Orchestra), free swing dance lessons, and majestic war-birds on display.

CAF Joe Foss Squadron Hangar Dance Gale Pifer Orchestra - K Moriah Slade –

CAF Joe Foss Squadron Hangar Dance Gale Pifer Orchestra – K Moriah Slade –

Birds in attendance were the B-17 Flying Fortress Sentimental Journey and the planes of Joe Foss including a Wildcat, Corsair and Mustang, as well as a visiting B-25, TBM Avenger, T-6, L-5 and Japanese Zero. When we arrived around 10 pm, the band was still in full swing (pun intended) and about 50 people were mingling, dancing and admiring the planes they had displayed both inside and outside the hangar. It may sound strange to the less enthusiastic, but the workmanship of many of the older plans are absolutely beautiful. From the ladies painted on the side, to the precise riveting on the panels, it amazes me what the innovative mind of a human can accomplish.

CAF Joe Foss Squadron Hangar Dance B-17G Flying Fortress – K Moriah Slade –

And what is more, 70 years ago these magnificent bird were made, and are as majestic today as they were when they were first commissioned. Whether you are a history fan or not, its worth at look at these amazing pieces of history, and support a cause. I have attended every Air Show since I moved to South Dakota, and had not heard of the CAF or the dance event till the night my person surprised me with tickets. It was well worth the sweltering heat, to get up close to the planes on display, and meet some of the members behind the organization. You can follow the CAF Joe Foss Squadron on Facebook for more events, plane rides, and general education. And don’t forget to get out to the Air Show today (Saturday) and tomorrow (Sunday) from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm.

CAF Objectives
 1. To acquire, restore and preserve in flying condition a complete collection of combat aircraft which were flown by all military services of the United States and selected aircraft of other nations for the education and enjoyment of present and future generations of Americans.

2. To provide museum buildings for the permanent protection and display of these aircraft as a tribute to the thousands of men and women who built, serviced and flew them.

3. To perpetuate in the memory and in the hearts of all Americans the spirit in which these great planes were flown in the defense of our nation.

4. To establish an organization having the dedication, enthusiasm and esprit de corps necessary to operate, maintain and preserve these aircraft as symbols of our American military aviation heritage.


Vern Eide
Showplace Kitchens
Maverick Air Center
10th Street AutoWash
Look’s Market
Handy Man
Beal Distributing, INC.


NAI Sioux Falls – Craig Hagen
Sands Drywall
Fernson Brewing Company
Scott Lawrence – Lawrence & Schiller

Resources & Links

Kelo September 29, 2015 Article 
Kelo July 21, 2016 Article 
Commemorative Air Force 
Gale Pifer Orchestra 
CAF Joe Foss Squadron 
Sioux Falls Air Show