- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2003

World War II flying ace Brig. Gen. Joe Foss died Wednesday, but his plan to teach young people nationwide the meaning of freedom and the true cost of war is just beginning.

The Joe Foss Institute this month will begin dispatching combat veterans to talk with public school students around the country, adding to the legacy of the Medal of Honor recipient who served two terms as South Dakota governor.

"The idea behind the Joe Foss Institute was a realization that the young people school-age people didn't have a clear idea of the source of our freedom, the price we have paid and the price we're going to pay to maintain that freedom," said Gus Grant, a friend of Mr. Foss and retired co-founder of Sprint.

"That was one of the major things, and when you go through that regimen of ideas, you come up with the feeling that integrity and patriotism are intertwined in that concept."

Mr. Foss, who shot down 26 enemy planes as a Marine pilot in the war, died after falling into a coma this autumn following an apparent aneurysm. He was 87.

"He is, in many ways, the quintessential World War II hero," fellow South Dakotan and Foss Institute adviser Tom Brokaw said in a statement. Mr. Foss was featured prominently in Mr. Brokaw's book "The Greatest Generation."

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said: "The story of Joe Foss' life is a story of human endeavor so great and so accomplished that it defies exaggeration. His has been a life of courage, independence, honesty, determination and patriotism."

Mr. Foss, whom Life magazine proclaimed "America's No. 1 Ace" when placing him on its cover in May 1943, was president of the National Rifle Association from 1988 to 1990 and the first commissioner of the American Football League. He also hosted ABC's "The American Sportsman" before retiring to Arizona about 20 years ago.

In retirement but never retired, Mr. Foss began lecturing at public school assemblies about U.S. history and the struggle to secure and keep this nation's freedoms.

"One school has had him for four consecutive years," his wife, Donna Foss, said before his death. "It's just rewarding. It's interesting the thought-provoking questions that they ask. You can tell which students are paying attention."

The interaction and satisfaction it produced led to creation of the Joe Foss Institute and its plan to dispatch combat veterans, including some of the 140 living Medal of Honor recipients, to deliver similar lectures throughout the country.

Operating on a small budget, the institute raises money to fund the lectures. Its goal is to have 1,000 volunteer lecturers give 10,000 presentations reaching 1 million students by 2005.

The lecturers will present a 20-minute video on the life of Mr. Foss, talk about their experiences in combat and professional world, then have question-and-answer sessions. Each school also receives a copy of Mr. Foss' autobiography, "A Proud American," and each student has an opportunity to enter an essay contest to win one of 20 $5,000 scholarships.

Mr. Grant believes such sessions can provide knowledge students may not receive in the classroom.

During one question-and-answer session in Arizona, he said, not a single student could name the general who led troops against the British at Yorktown in 1781 (George Washington). Ten of the students suggested it might have been Ulysses S. Grant, who was born 41 years after the encounter that ended the Revolutionary War.

At 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 22, Mrs. Foss, senior military officers, members of Congress and veterans group leaders will gather at the National Press Club to inaugurate the institute's work.

Mr. Foss' autobiography detailed the difficulties he overcame in pursuit of personal and professional success.

In 1934, Mr. Foss dropped out of college to help his mother run the family farm while scraping together money for flight lessons. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1940 with both a business degree and a civilian pilot's license.

He then enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve, earning his wings at a Pensacola, Fla., military base with a commission as a second lieutenant.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was ordered to report to an aerial reconnaissance squadron, but held out for fighter duty despite being told he was too old at age 27. He won the argument, and after training in the F4F Wildcat, was sent to the South Pacific.

On Oct. 9, 1942, Capt. Foss and his fighter wing arrived at Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. His two four-plane groups eventually would be called "Foss' Flying Circus" and would carry out more than 60 missions.

On Oct. 16, he shot down two Japanese Zeros and a bomber to bring his total kills to five, making him an ace in just one week. By mid-November, Capt. Foss' personal total of downed Japanese planes stood at 19, for which he won the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After his plane was shot down on Nov. 7, 1942, near the Solomon island of Malalita, he was hospitalized for wounds and a bout of malaria. He returned to Guadalcanal and racked up 26 confirmed planes shot down and 16 probable kills, equaling famed ace Eddie Rickenbacker's World War I record.

On what would be his last Guadalcanal mission, his group scrambled to intercept nearly 100 Japanese warplanes. Spotting the enemy, Capt. Foss signaled his grossly outnumbered squadron not to attack, but rather to circle above the Japanese planes in tight formation.

As he hoped, the Japanese believed his group was a decoy for a huge American air armada and fled. With this strategy, Capt. Foss accomplished one of the greatest bluffs in the history of aerial combat, which many historians would call a turning point in the war.

Capt. Foss then was called back to Washington to lead the campaign for U.S. war bonds. President Roosevelt presented him with the Medal of Honor for "outstanding heroism above and beyond the call of duty."

He returned to South Dakota to organize and lead the state's Air National Guard. He also served with the Air Force in Korea, then returned home to again serve with the Air National Guard as a Reservist, retiring as a brigadier general.

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