By Wayne Anthony Ross
When I was a youngster, only a small handful of Civil War veterans were still alive.
When I was a young man, the “old veterans” had fought in the Spanish American War. The movers and shakers in the community in those days were veterans of WWI. Now the old veterans, who served in WWII or Korea, are passing. Soon they to will all be gone also.
We who are still here should keep them in our memory as long as possible.
One of by those WWII veterans I will never forget was Joe Foss. General Foss was the top Marine Corp Ace of WWII. He shot down 26 Japanese planes and was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Roosevelt.
Joe claimed to be a Japanese ace too because he crashed five American planes in that war.
One plane Joe put into the palm trees, tearing off both wings. Another he ditched in the water, floating around in his Mae West for many hours until he was rescued by a Catholic missionary who just happened to be paddling by. “When I crashed my first plane,” Joe recalled, “I suddenly realized that war is dangerous, and a guy can get killed in a war!”
Joe went on to be Adjutant General, Governor of South Dakota, and later, Commissioner of the old American Football League. He helped establish the Super Bowl, and had his own television program “The Outdoorsman, Joe Foss”.
I first met Joe when he joined me on the Board of the National Rifle Association. Joe went on to eventually become President of the NRA, and later, Chairman of Campus Crusade for Christ. Over time, we became good friends and Joe came to Alaska on many occasions, staying with Barbara and me at our home.
One evening, our #2 son, Brian, twelve or thirteen at the time, got the opportunity to watch the movie “Flying Tigers” with Joe Foss in our kitchen. Joe had Brian spell-bound with his tales of flying during the war and Joe would carefully explain to Brian which scenes in the movie were accurate and which were not, and why they were not.
Joe later helped Brian get into the U.S. Naval Academy by writing a letter of support, telling the Superintendent if Joe went to war again, “the first guy I’d choose to take with me would be a fighting man like Brian Ross.” Perhaps that’s why Brian joined the Marines upon graduation. Brian, after 21 years in the USMC, retired as a LtCol and is now the Principal of Lumen Christi Catholic High School in Anchorage.
Joe even gave me his wartime Colt .45 on the condition that I eventually give it to Brian who Joe called “a fine Marine.”
It was a pleasure to spend an evening, or even an hour, with Joe. He had wonderful stories and a great attitude about life. He’d say “It’s a great day! And at my age, every day is a great day!” Joe had a fascinating way of expressing himself that came from his younger days on the farm in South Dakota. It got so that I would write down what I called “Fossisms” after spending time with Joe.
Some of my favorites were:
When indicating to someone that they were nitpicking in their argument, he’d say: “That’s like backing into a buzz saw and then trying to decide which tooth cut you first.”
“That’s a bad deal. It’s like having shorts on that are too small.”
“If you are going to get married, you might as well get someone who’ll get you out of the box elders and into the oak trees.”
“You get to know politicians better if you put a little hay into their barn.”
And, referring to Bill Clinton – “That guy is like having a cow pie in the middle of your dinner table.
Joe Foss was a true American hero. He believed in and fought for America. And America has lost something precious when Joe died. He is dearly missed.