American Ace: Joe Foss, Fighter Pilot


American Ace: Joe Foss, Fighter Pilot — written and illustrated by Hector Curriel

South Dakota Historical Society Press

Copyright 2022

Autographed by the author

130 pages



From the time he was four years old, Joseph Jacob “Joe” Foss (1915-2003) found flight fascinating. The South Dakota farm boy followed the career of flyer Charles Lindbergh and could hardly wait to get into the air himself. In college, he took private flying lessons, and as war broke out across Europe in 1939 and 1940, he joined the South Dakota National Guard, preparing himself for combat. After graduation, he joined the United States Marine Corps’ flight training program. By 1942, as a qualified fighter pilot, he was 26 years old and deemed too old for combat. He accepted his job as a flight instructor but continued to work toward a combat role. He pestered his superiors until he was allowed to take combat training in the Grumman F-4F Wildcat, the carrier-based dogfighter of the Pacific theater. As a captain, he was eventually assigned as executive officer of fighter squadron VMF-121. His unit arrived on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands in early October 1942, just weeks after the Allies had taken the airfield from the Japanese and renamed it Henderson Field.

By mid-October, Foss had shot down five enemy airplanes and was a designated flying ace. With his leadership and his pilots’ daredevil tactics, VMF-121 became known as Foss’s Flying Circus. Within three months, Foss became America’s Number One Ace for having shot down 26 enemy planes. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Following World War II, Foss established the South Dakota Air National Guard, was elected for two terms as Governor of South Dakota, served as commissioner of the American Football League and helped start the Super Bowl, hosted two outdoor sportsman television shows, and served as president of the National Rifle Association, among other achievements in his distinguished career.

Hector Curriel is an illustrator, watercolor artist, and cartoonist. Born in Lima, Peru, he lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.