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"WWII Hero, Ex-S.D. Gov. Joe Foss Dies
By DORIS HAUGEN
.c The Associated Press
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - People who knew Joe Foss say he lived his life with energy and conviction - no surprise for a World War II hero who later served as governor of South Dakota, president of the National Rifle Association and the first commissioner of the American Football League.
Foss, who shot down 26 enemy planes as a Marine pilot in the war, died Wednesday. He was 87.
``Joe was incredibly passionate in his belief system, a staunch Christian and enormous American patriot,'' said Scott Vining of Scottsdale, Ariz., who said Foss was his great uncle.
Foss, who also worked as a TV outdoorsman, had not regained consciousness after suffering an apparent aneurysm last fall. He died at a hospital in Arizona, South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow said.
Foss navigated his many careers with tremendous optimism.
``I always had the attitude that every day will be a great day,'' he said in a 1987 interview. ``I look forward to it like a kid in a candy store, wherever I am.''
Foss led a Marine air unit known as Joe's Flying Circus that shot down 72 Japanese planes. He downed 26 planes himself, tying the U.S. aerial record Eddie Rickenbacker set in World War I.
Foss became a well-known war hero; a 1943 Life magazine cover proclaimed him ``America's No. 1 Ace.''
Foss ``spurred an entire nation into a resolve that we would win the second World War and make the world a safer place,'' Janklow said. ``All the things that he accomplished pale in comparison to the fact that back in the deep dark days of the early '40s when America needed a hero, Joe Foss was there.''
Foss was featured prominently in Tom Brokaw's book ``The Greatest Generation.''
``He had a hero's swagger but a winning smile to go with his plain talk and movie-star looks,'' Brokaw wrote. ``Joe Foss was larger than life, and his heroics in the skies over the Pacific were just the beginning of a journey that would take him to places far from that farm with no electricity and not much hope north of Sioux Falls.''
Foss, who also served as a colonel in the Air Force in the Korean War, was awarded the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star, Silver Star and Purple Heart. In 1984, he was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio.
Born April 17, 1915, on a farm east of Sioux Falls, Foss said he loved flying since he was a child, when pilots waved to him as they flew over his family's home.
``I thought, `Someday I'm gonna trade these horses for an airplane,''' he said.
After the war, Foss, a Republican, served in the state Legislature for five years before becoming governor from 1955 to 1959.
He then became commissioner of the American Football League, which began play in 1960 to challenge the established National Football League. Foss held the post until 1966, and the leagues merged in 1970.
He also hosted two television sportsmen's shows, ``The American Sportsman'' and ``The Outdoorsman: Joe Foss'' and was president of the National Rifle Association from 1988 to 1990.
``I'll keep working until the day I die,'' Foss said. ``I can't imagine sitting down and saying this is the end of the trail.''
Foss was visiting Beaverton, Mich., last fall when he became sick. He had planned to give a speech in support of his great-nephew, who had applied to attend the U.S. Military Academy.
He was later moved from a hospital in Michigan to Scottsdale, Ariz., where he and his wife lived.
Foss is survived by his wife, two children and two stepchildren."
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