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General Joseph Foss' Colt Model 1911A1 Semi-Automatic General Officer's Pistol
This semi-automatic pistol commemorates the illustrious military and civilian career of Joseph Foss: recipient of the Medal of Honor as a result of his service as an aviator in the United States Marine Corps during the Second World War, Brigadier General in the South Dakota Air National Guard, former Governor of South Dakota, and former President of the National Rifle Association.
General Joe Foss was born on April 17, 1915 at Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He grew up on a farm in the state, where he developed a sense of adventure and learned the values of patriotism, independence, hard work, and personal honor. In addition to his chores, Foss also developed a love of hunting, partly as a recreational activity, and partly as a deterrent against coyotes and other predators.
After the death of his father, Foss worked his way through college at the University of South Dakota, where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration in 1940. While enrolled at the school, he trained with the South Dakota National Guard, and, having made his solo aircraft flight in 1936, Foss was accepted into the Marine Corps flight training program at Wold-Chamberlain Reserve Base in Minneapolis, Minnesota after graduation. He passed the grueling five-week selection process required before advancing to flight school at Pensacola Naval Air Station, Florida, and in January 1941, Foss was assigned to fighter training at Opa-Locka Naval Air Station.
After mastering aerobatic flying, trainees learned gunnery, in which Foss excelled, thanks to the hunting and shooting experience gained on his family farm. Foss received his commission as a Marine Corps Second Lieutenant on March 15, 1941, and his aviator's wing were awarded on March 29. Although he desperately wanted to serve in a combat squadron, the twenty six year-old Lieutenant Foss received orders to report to Sauffley Field in Pensacola as a flight instructor. After the Japanese attack on December 7th, Foss requested transfer to a fighter squadron, but was turned down due to his age.
He volunteered for numerous special duty assignments, hoping that this would be his ticket into combat, and, after completing training in photography, Lt. Foss joined VMD-1, the first Marine Corps photo reconnaissance squadron of the Second World War. While assigned to aerial reconnaissance duty at North Island, near San Diego, California, Foss was able to secure a transfer to the Navy's Advanced Carrier Training Group. Prior to completion of his training, Foss married June Shakstad, his girlfriend from Sioux Falls, who had graduated from Iowa State University in 1940 before taking a job in San Diego.
He completed ACTG on July 19, 1942, graduating with the highest gunnery score in his class. After a brief return tour with VMD-1, Lt. Foss became executive officer of VMF-121, a Marine Corps fighter squadron based at Camp Kearney, near San Diego. Soon after promotion to the rank of Captain on August 11, 1942, Foss and his squadron mates received orders to the Pacific Theater. While at sea, they learned that their destination was the island of Guadalcanal in the Solomon archipelago, where the First Marine Division's August 7th invasion had launched the first U.S. offensive of the war.
Prior to entering combat, the crews of VMF-121 reviewed fighter tactics and practiced combat drills. Flying Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters from Henderson Field, Captain Foss and the other members of the "Cactus Air Force," as Guadalcanal's aviators were known, fought both the Japanese and the elements, where enemy aircraft, ground and naval artillery, and small arms fire, coupled with the jungle and its crocodiles, leeches, and mosquitoes, frequent torrential downpours and blazing sun, malaria and dysentery, made survival a constant challenge. Short on everything from spare parts to gasoline, both flight and ground crews worked frantically, salvaging parts and fuel from destroyed aircraft to keep other planes and pilots in the air.
On October 13, Foss's third day on Guadalcanal, he scored his first combat "kill" when he shot down a Zero only moments before being forced to make an emergency landing at Henderson Field after other Japanese fighters peppered his Wildcat with machine gun and 20 millimeter cannon fire. Uninjured, Captain Foss remained on combat status and within a week, he had scored four more kills to become an "ace." Before the end of month, his tally stood at 16 Japanese aircraft, including five in one day on October 25th, a record that earned for him a Distinguished Flying Cross. "Foss's Flying Circus" participated in the sinking of the Japanese battleship Hiei off Savo Island during the fierce naval attacks of November 1942.
Foss was finally forced out of action not by the Japanese, but by malaria and dysentery. One week later, the pilots of Foss's Flying Circus were pulled from combat duty for R&R in New Caledonia. Returning to Guadalcanal on New Year's Day 1942, Foss became commanding officer of VMF-121. By January 15th, Foss had shot down 26 enemy aircraft, tying Eddie Rickenbacker's First World War record. Ten days later, his flight of eight Wildcats and four Army P-38s scrambled to face a vastly superior force of nearly 100 Japanese fighters and bombers flying to attack Henderson Field. Their bravery in action against overwhelming odds resulted in the downing of four Japanese planes and forced the enemy bombers to abort their mission and returned to their base without attacking the Marine Corps air base.
Foss's Flying Circus was again pulled from combat, this time for re-assignment to the United States as combat instructors. Major General Francis P. Mulcahy, Allied air commander on Guadalcanal, and General Roy Geiger, Commander, First Marine Air Wing, recommended Foss for the Medal of Honor "for repeated acts of heroism and intrepidy at the risk of his life far beyond the call of duty and without detriment to his mission." Captain Foss received the award at the White House on May 18, 1943. For the next two months, Foss toured the country and made public appearances bolstering war bond sales, military recruiting, and morale on the home front, especially in defense plants.
In July 1943, Foss received orders to report to the Marine base at Santa Barbara, California to train the pilots of VMF-115 for duty in the Pacific. He and his Vought F4U Corsair-equipped squadron arrived on Guadalcanal in January 1944 before moving on to Bougainville to fly strikes against the Japanese base at Rabaul, New Britain. After flying additional missions from Green Island and Emirau Island, VMF-115 was ordered to the Philippines in the fall of 1944. Suffering from a relapse of malaria, Foss was ordered to relinquish command and return to the United States. After regaining his health, Foss remained in the U.S. until leaving active duty with the rank of Major in December 1945. After the war, Foss and his boyhood friend and fellow military pilot Duke Corning formed Foss's Flying Service, offering charter, maintenance and repair services, and a flight school until selling the business in 1956.
In 1947, Foss resigned from the Marine Corps Reserves and became one of the founders of the South Dakota Air National Guard. Two years later, he was elected to membership in South Dakota's House of Representatives. He remained a businessman as well, expanding into automobile dealerships, and he also became active in civic affairs and charitable causes, including the National Society for Crippled Children and Adults, the Crippled Children Society, and the Crippled Children's School and Hospital, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. After serving a two-year term in the state legislature, Foss returned to Sioux Falls until he was called to active duty during the Korean War with the rank of Colonel. His age and Medal of Honor status denied him a combat command, but he served as Director of Operations and Training with the Central Air Defense Command in Kansas City, Missouri.
After returning home, Foss was once again elected to the state legislature in November 1952. He was promoted to Brigadier General in both the Air Force Reserve and the South Dakota Air National Guard in January 1954, and in November of that year, he became at age thirty-nine the youngest governor in South Dakota history. While serving as the state's Chief Executive, Foss worked hard on water issues, and he also strove to improve agriculture, roads, education, and the state's business climate. He was re-elected in 1956, but failed in his run for the U.S. House of Representatives in the elections of 1958. Foss returned to business after leaving the Governor's Mansion, serving as the first Commissioner of the American Football League from 1959 until 1966. Under his leadership, the A.F.L. successfully negotiated a network television contract and became a serious challenger to the established N.F.L.
During this period, Foss also served as President of the Air Force Association, and he hosted the television series, "The American Sportsman." After resigning from his position with the A.F.L. in April 1966, he formed his own production company and became host of the syndicated television series, "The Outdoorsman - Joe Foss." After a lengthy separation, Joe and June Foss eventually divorced, and General Foss married Donna (Didi) Wild in January 1967. In 1972, he became Director of Public Affairs for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, a position he held until his retirement in 1978. He retired from the Air National Guard in 1980.
General Foss remains active in a number of pursuits, including Campus Crusade for Christ, the Endowment for Community Leadership, the International American Patriot Fund, Law Enforcement Ministry, and Friends of N.R.A. He has also served as President of the National Rifle Association between 1988 and 1990, and he remains a member of N.R.A.'s Board of Directors. He is also a member of the Aviation Hall of Fame, and has served as a member of the both the President's Council on Physical Fitness and the White House Conference on Handicapped Individuals.