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World War II pilot-hero Joe Foss dies at 87

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Joe Foss, a World War II hero who shot down 26 enemy planes as a Marine pilot and later became governor of South Dakota, died Wednesday. He was 87.

Foss — who also served as president of the National Rifle Association, commissioner of the American Football League and a TV outdoorsman — had not regained consciousness after suffering an apparent aneurysm last fall. He died at a hospital in Arizona, said South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow.

Foss led a Marine Air Force unit known as Joe's Flying Circus that shot down 72 Japanese planes. He downed 26 of them himself, becoming a well-known 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."