Just weeks before his death on January 1, 2003, from an aneuryism, American hero Joe Foss shot from the hip in an interview with The American Legion Magazine.
“There are two kinds of men: those who talk and dream of doing great things and those who actually do great things that make a difference. Joseph Jacob Foss is of the second, and rare, variety. Simply put, Joe Foss is one of the most colorful and interesting men of our time and one of the greatest fighter pilots of any era.
Where do we begin with the Joe Foss story? Top Marine fighter ace of all time with 26 air victories over Guadalcanal in six weeks. Cover of Life magazine. Presented the Medal of Honor in 1943 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. An Air Force colonel in the Korean War. Former chief of staff of the South Dakota Air National Guard. Retired brigadier general. Two-time governor of South Dakota. First commissioner of the American Football League. Former president of the National Rifle Association. Host of television’s “The American Sportsman” and “The Outdoorsman.” Longtime member of the American Legion & vice chairman of the Legion’s aeronautics committee for 22 years.
In an interview with The American Legion Magazine, Foss, 87, was alternately blunt, brash, irreverent, outspoken and decidedly politically incorrect. He was just being himself and following the advice he gives to young people in his 1992 book “A Proud American: The Autobiography of Joe Foss.” (Pocket Books): “I tell (young people) that my father taught me to shoot straight and to shoot honest, and that what I’ve always tried to do.”
The American Legion Magazine (TALM):
Where were you when the terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001?
Joe Foss: I was hunting elk in Colorado, and I saw it on television. My first thoughts were that war had been declared on us. Anytime somebody hits the Pentagon, it’s an automatic declaration of war as far as this cowboy’s concerned. They struck at our heart and there’s only one way to answer – knock them off.
TALM: What do you think about the people who say that the United States deserved what happened on Sept. 11?
JF: They’re all idiots.
JF: Anybody who would come up with a statement like that shouldn’t be living in this country. It’s time to stop mamby-pambying around with PC (political correctness) and the rest of that baloney. They should get out and go wherever they want. We don’t have any fences keeping them in. We have a heck of a time keeping them out of here. Our country was founded by good Christian men and women who gave their lives, for crying out loud, to get this nation started. Now these characters want to take us over. What have they ever produced? What good do they do?
Take this outfit that is having this meeting about how bad the world is (the September 2002 Earth Summit in South Africa). They say we polluted it. Well, they pollute it just by breeding kids like rabbits. Why don’t they just shape up at home? There’s something spelled W-O-R-K. Instead, they got their hands out. They come over here, and some of them want us to dole out cash to them at the same time they’re saying how bad America is. This country is the greatest country on the face of the earth, and if you don’t believe that, you ought to get out of here!
TALM: What do we do with Saddam Hussein?
JF: Knock him off. Next question.
TALM: In February 2002, you were stopped by security guards at the Phoenix airport. Where were you going when this happened?
JF: Well, that just shows how idiotic that whole (security) setup is. I was headed for an NRA meeting and then on to West Point to talk to the sophomore class about the Medal of Honor. I go all over giving talks these days; that’s how I make a living, to tell you the truth. Well, the medal set off a buzzer and that caused all the problems. I told them what it was and they wanted to take it from me. I guess he thought I could use it as a weapon. I said, ‘In a pig’s eye!’ right on the back of the medal, it’s engraved – “Medal of Honor.” They passed it around, but nobody could read, so that was a big problem.
It was like I had been shot down over a foreign land somewhere. I got the same treatment here. They thought I was a terrorist, for crying out loud. They even made me take off my boots and my belt. I always wear a (bolo) tie, and they took that from me, too, because it had points on it. There were two National Guard kids standing there, and that irritated me too. I had been a Guardsman myself back in 1937, and that’s not what the Guard is supposed to be dong, hanging around airports with guns. So I showed these two kids thel medal and asked them if they knew what it was.
Then I told them they’d never get one of those hanging around here.
I finally got to the gate, and I’m ready to get on the airplane, and then they pick me out of the line again and put me behind this curtain where this old gal – the nastiest thing I’ve seen in a long time – said, “Get off your boots.” So I went through the whole rigmarold again. They searched me three different times. What a joke! I’m not even sure these people were Americans. They were just hanging around the airport, I guess.
You know, I’m qualified with all kinds of guns, and I have a license. Maybe I should just have a card that says “Qualified Real American” with my picture on it. Then maybe I wouldn’t have to go through all this nonsense and undress every time I go to the airport.
TALM: You’re a frequent flyer these days. Should commercial pilots be armed?
JF: I think everybody on the plane ought to be armed. Well, you can’t really issue weapons to passengers unless they all learned how to handle them, but if a guy has a license, he should be able to carry the weapon on board. Use the new ammunition they have, so you don’t knock any holes in the airplane.
TALM: What is the purpose of the Second Amendment?
JF: The right to keep and bear arms in one of the freedoms our founding fathers fought for. They wrote the Second Amendment so we can protect ourselves. If the wrong people come after us, and sometimes the wrong people can be the government. That’s just one of our freedoms. And it’s the First Amendment people trying to take the Second Amendment away from us. We even let them burn the flag to express themselves. How crazy can we get? We’re locking up the jury and sending the criminals back home. We’re all nuts.
TALM: You once said that the entire nation should be armed. Do you still believe that?
JF: Absolutely. Every honest man and woman, if they so wish, should be able to carry a sidearm or have a rifle if they want to hunt or shoot clay birds or whenever they want to do. In my case, I was a crack shot when I went off to war, and it paid off. Anyone who doesn’t have that belief, they’re welcome to it – that’s their right. But if they’re trying to wipe us out for our beliefs, that ‘s a different angle. Those people just don’t have the right thoughts in their heads.
TALM: Some one called you “the most dangerous man in America” because of your relationship with the NRA (For our Norwegian friends, NRA is the National Rifle Association).
JF: Yeah, that was some lop-headed congressman. You can just imagine how he legislates for this country. He’s on the wrong track to start with; he’s never been shot at or got in the line for military service. I never bothered to look him up (to talk to him) because I figure he qualified as an insane nut.
TALM: Did you really have a fight with “Baa Baa Black Sheep” ace (Lt. Col. Gregory) “Pappy Boyinton?” (Note: Lt. Col. Boyinton was a Marine ace in the Pacific theater during WWII. His squadron was made up of pilots that had been kicked out of various units for many different reasons. They did some crazy things but were one of the most respected units by the end of the war.)
JF: ” Yeah, that was back in 1949. It was a real nice affair put on by The American Legion at the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. the commander of the Legion was there with about half the U.S. Senate and a bunch of rich VIPs. Pappy just got drunk and silly and tried to throw me down. You realy shouldn’t do that, you know. I guess we broke a few tables and chairs, but I took care of him. He went to sleep, and the next morning he said, “I guess we had a little fun last night.” Pappy was a friend of mine.
TALM: Why did you get into politics?
JF: Politics is the housekeeping of good government. I advise folks in the military service to get into politics because somebody who is ready to lay their life down for their country qualifies more than those you see there now. They’re always greasing up something to pass for their local communities instead of looking out for the whole country.
TALM: You were a two-term governor of South Dakota. Did you do a good job?
JF: I’d rate myself A-No. 1.
TALM: Why did you get into television?
JF: To make a living. You know when used correctly, television is one of the greatest inventions ever. But when you use it in the wrong direction, it’s one of the worst things we ever had fall on our heads.
TALM: You’ve led one heck of an interesting life, General.
JF: Oh yeah. I could start a fire in the middle of a plowed field.
TALM: What is your greatest achievement?
JF: Receiving Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I’ve been a born-again Christian since the 1960’s. I pray to the Lord every day; the first thing I do when I wake up is thank the Lord I’m still here. Then I know it’s going to be a great day. I’m not afraid to represent the Lord every place I go.”