Monday, January 29, 2024


Twenty-one years ago this month America and the world lost an exceptional man.

During World War II, South Dakota farm boy Joseph J. Foss became an American icon.  He rose to national prominence for his combat heroism flying at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, engaging Japanese aircraft almost daily for three months.

I was privileged to call Joe a friend.  But so were legions of others.  I never knew anyone with so many devoted friends—not merely acquaintances or colleagues.

Joe grew up on a farm near Sioux Falls, inheriting the work ethic of his Norwegian emigrant family.  Hard work and independence formed the core of his character.  At seventeen he coped with the shock of losing his father in a freak accident, and continued pursuing his ambition.

Enamored with aviation from childhood, Joe paid off his family’s mortgage, put himself through college, and entered naval pilot training.  He won his wings of gold in 1941, opting for the Marine Corps “because I wanted in a fightin’ outfit.” By cleverly gaming “the system,” he avoided assignments in gliders and photo reconnaissance to gain his goal: flying Grumman F4F Wildcats.

Then-Captain Foss arrived at Guadalcanal with Marine Fighter Squadron 121 in October 1942.  With experience to match his talent, he shot his way to the top of America’s ace roster, becoming the first to match the World War I score of Captain Eddie Rickenbacker with 26 victories. 

Joes’ record was not easily achieved.  He was shot down or force landed four times but he kept coming back for more.  When he returned home in early 1943, he received the Medal of Honor from President Franklin D. Roosevelt only four months after leaving combat.

Life magazine’s cover of June 7, 1943, showed Joe wearing his medal over the title “America’s No. 1 Ace.”  Joe retained the title until Army Air Forces Captain Richard Bong reached 28 in the Pacific during April 1944.  In 1945 Bong ran his tally to forty, becoming America’s all-time ace of aces, but died in an accident that summer.

Six other American aces exceeded 26 victories during World War II, and Joe remains tied for seventh on the all-time list.

After tolerating “the dancing bear act” selling war bonds, Joe formed his own squadron and took VMF-115 to the Solomons in 1944.  But he contracted malaria and was waylaid for months in recovering at home.

At war’s end Joe remained the Marine Corps’ leading ace, although the service foolishly accepted the 28 unverified claims of Gregory “Pappy” Boyington.  All of Foss’ 26 victories were scored in Marine service.  Boyington’s total recognized by the American Fighter Aces Association is 24 including two (versus six claimed) with the Flying Tigers.  Eight decades later the Marines still have not corrected the record.
Returning to South Dakota, Joe formed a flying business and helped establish the South Dakota Air National Guard.  During the Korean War, Colonel Foss served in the Central Air Defense Command where he broke the boredom by practicing duck calls.  Frequently his expressive clucking and quacking reduced his colleagues to fits of laughter.

Eventually Joe rose to brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve, retiring in 1975.

Joe could not avoid public service.  He was elected to the state legislature and subsequently he won two terms as governor.
From thereon Joe was frequently in the public eye.  In 1959 he founded the American Football League, leading to the Super Bowl.  Along the way he was national chairman of Easter Seals, partly because a daughter suffered from polio.  Also, he was president of the National Rifle Association and the fighter aces association; was invited into the elite Golden Eagles naval aviation society; and was elected to the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

As governor of South Dakota, Joe had mentored a youngster named Tom Brokaw.  Decades later Brokaw included Joe in the best seller The Greatest Generation.  Joe shunned the notion: “We weren’t the greatest, we just did what we had to do.”  He insisted that the republic’s founders were The Greatest.  

He was right.

A Marine contemporary of Joe’s maintained “the old corps” ethic by dividing the human race into two categories: copers and non-copers.  Alternatively, grass eaters and meat eaters.

Joe was a coping carnivore.  The roller-coaster ride of his life threw repeated challenges in his path, from the crucible of combat and the heights of glory to the grief of losing friends of his youth plus two children and a marriage. 

At age fifty he nearly died from accidental poisoning, casually sucking on a sprayed corn stalk while hunting pheasant.  He often referred to himself in the third person, saying, “The Grim Reaper had Old Joe backed up to the one-yard line and was about to score.”  His recovery was an epiphany: from there on Joe was an evangelistic Christian.  Not the lapel-grabbing variety, but never reluctant to express his faith.

At dedication of the National World War II Museum’s Pacific wing in 2001 Joe said, “They told me not to mention God or guns so that’s what I’m gonna talk about.”  The audience laughed and applauded—except for the marine general sitting behind him.

Joe and his beloved Didi founded the Foss Institute that year, providing patriotic lesson plans and veterans as speakers to school classes.

In 2002 Joe made headlines when Phoenix airport security detained him en route to speak at West Point.  The guards worried that his Medal of Honor’s beveled edges “might hurt someone.”  Joe exclaimed, “Hurt someone? Why do you suppose they gave me the medal?”

That October Joe suffered a stroke and lapsed into a coma.  He remained comatose nearly three months, and it occurred to me that his final battle mirrored his Guadalcanal battles between October 1942 and January 1943.

Joe died in Scottsdale Arizona, January 1, 2003, age 87.

Joe’s friends and contemporaries accurately described him as “bigger than life” and “a man’s man.”  But mainly I remember how much fun it was to know Joe Foss, whether shooting together or enjoying his Christmas oyster soup.  

Joe Foss: an American original.

Sunday, December 31, 2023


Recently my chronological odometer turned past the 75 mark, but I like to think that my factory warranty remains valid.  (No, I do not know the expiration date, but checking insurance actuarials, presumably I’m good for another 13 years.  That’s better than my ancestral DNA would indicate, a median of 80 years.)

But I digress.

I was born in 1948, a fourth-generation native Oregonian (and I shall spare you my rant about the factual and semantic problems inherent to the misnomer “Native Americans”). 

Though I’ve lived and worked in Phoenix and San Diego, my roots run deep.  It was a sentiment shared with my late friend Governor and General Joe Foss (and if you ask “Joe who?”, then you stumbled onto the wrong blog).  He said, “I was born a farmer and I’ll always be a farmer.”

I grew up in a Northeast Oregon town of about 900, attending a four-year high school with 120 students.  A great grandfather and grandfather were mayors; one got the streets paved.  I was on the city council as police, park, and library commissioner.  Maybe I’m the only police commissioner anywhere who loaded ammo for his “force.”

The ranch was a life lesson.  Aside from growing wheat, peas and cattle, we raised horses, mules, bison, and llamas.  My youngest brother considered camels but Dad’s response was predictable: he Just Said No.

Summer vacation?  What’s that?  Ten-hour days before, during and after wheat were typical.  I think the record was fourteen.  The routine was almost happily broken by runs with Dad’s tricked-out fire truck.  Previously he’d been chief of the rural fire department because he owned the truck.

Upon turning 75, I harkened back a quarter century to recall my 50th birthday.  (Sidebar: one of my valued friends was a Navy test pilot who said his 30th birthday was the biggest surprise of his life).  Like almost everybody who attains half a century, I pondered the fact that I was farther from The Beginning than The End.  

Somewhere in my archive is a list of Things I Learned In Fifty Years.  I wish I could find it because some of the entries remain even more valid now.  Particularly “The guilty will punish the innocent.”  You can make of that statement what you will, but from my perspective here in Arizona Territory, it’s applicable to the XXI Century.  Like totally.

So how to make best use of the remaining time?

Well, assuming 13 years is valid, that should be more than enough to write the four books I want to complete.  The subjects remain Beyond Top Secret lest one of the dozens of my blog readers usurp my originality.  One of the incomplete manuscripts has sulked in the back of my file cabinet since about 1980, victim of the inability of my coauthor to finish his portion before he up and died on me.

If my warranty expires prematurely, I will not be overly disappointed.  I was blessed with a mother who gave her sons the gift of curiosity, and a father who provided a strong example and good living off the land.  Recalling the family motto: Spes Alit Agricolum.  “Hope Flies With the Farmer.”

Like so many American families, mine has a record of long voyages and risk taking.  From Northern Europe to England in the 8th century, to America in the 17th (Mayflower and all that) ultimately to the shores of the Pacific.  And here we remain—there’s nowhere else to go even if we wanted to.

It’s been a long journey, often dangerous.  Both sides of my family were engaged in the Revolutionary War but my father’s side was split.  Lieutenant Colonel Tench Tilghman was George Washington’s aide de camp who took news of the Yorktown victory to congress in 1781.  Tench’s father and brothers remained loyalists.

My mother joined the DAR on two ancestors who commanded the militias at Lexington and Concord: Captain John Parker and Colonel James Barrett, respectively.  She had a cousin named Parker Barrett. 

My maternal great-great grandparents trekked the Oregon Trail in 1852, and Martha Jane Nye left a journal that I transcribed about 120 years later.  I still think it would make a terrific book if my agent could convince a publisher.  Those people had soaring optimism—and heart.  They left behind everything they knew for an uncertain future in the Oregon Country.  It was a five-month race against nature, starting when the grass was high enough to sustain oxen pulling wagons, and ending before winter descended with chilling-to killing finality.

I wonder what the Founders generation would make of their posterity today.  We seem to be pushing away their principles with both hands.  The nation and its culture are bitterly divided, and whatever healing followed the debacle we call “Vietnam” has withered in a welter of political bitterness, open corruption, double standards, and frequent violence.

I’m reminded of the oft-cited ancient Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.”

I’ve done almost everything I was capable of doing if not everything I wanted to do—particularly becoming a military aviator.  (I couldn’t catch a break: asthma, eyes, and flat feet.)  But I grew up restoring and flying historic aircraft, earning a decent living writing about them, now tallied at 50-some books and 800 articles worldwide.  Believe-you-me: that is not easy to do.

OK, I’m eligible for a Geezer card because my hearing impairment arose long before I reached “retirement” age.  A lifetime of shooting, dating from before ear protectors were perfected, and several hundred hours in open cockpits.  But I wouldn’t exchange that disability for anything.

My most memorable month: May ’65 when I soloed and made Eagle Scout.

My worst month: June, several years running when I lost life-lines including three writing colleagues and two of the closest friends I’ve ever had.  Two died violently: one flying a P-38; the other—a retired Marine general—was murdered in a home invasion.  For years I grew twitchy around the middle of May because experience proved I was not being superstitious.

I grew up with two accomplished younger brothers, both multi-talented and successful in business and academics. 

I won state and regional championships in high school as a percussionist and speaker-debater.

I’ve traveled to Canada, Mexico, Britain, and the Philippines.  I have hunted in Africa, and led a national championship shooting team.  

I have enjoyed—and deeply appreciate—the friendship of men and women who share two qualities: all are ethical and unusually intelligent—and most are accurate.

And late in life I found Her, The One, whom it would have been dreadfully easy to miss.  

Thank you, God.  For everything.

Thursday, November 2, 2023


This is a vitally important message, relevant beyond the borders of Israel when blatant antisemitism has arisen and is condoned in American and Western institutions.

Read it in context of other massacres of unarmed populations, whether the the 2014 mass murder in China (31 killed, 140 injured with knives) or the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris (12 killed, 11 wounded with various firearms).

The author reminds me of a late friend, colleague, and mentor Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper, USMCR, who wrote, among many other things: “Fight back!  Whenever you are offered violence, fight back!  The aggressor does not fear the law, so he must be taught to fear you.  Whatever the risk, at whatever the cost, fight back!"

Remember, dear readers: in one’s final moments, it’s possible to die like a samurai—or an insect.

Reprinted by permission of The Prickly Pear October 25, 2023.

“Never Again”, My Tuchus - PRICKLY PEAR (

By Charles M. Strauss

“Never again” what?  Never again will Jews allow themselves to be led like sheep to the slaughter? Never again will Jews be surprised by depraved maniacs that want to kill them? Never again will Jews be unprepared to defend themselves, to fight for their own lives, and the lives of their children?

Well, here we go again. In Gaza within the past three weeks Israeli Jews did allow themselves to be led like sheep to the slaughter; they were surprised, and they were unprepared to fight.

“Hold on there! How dare you blame the victims!” Sorry, but we blame victims all the time, when they deserve to share the blame. Control your outrage for a minute and think about this fairly common scenario. You see a story in the news that says a drunk driver crossed the center line, and ran head-on into another car, killing the young woman driving, and her two-year-old child.  

Who is to blame? The drunk driver, of course! Not the victims! How dare you blame the victims! But then you find out that the mother was texting on her phone at the time, and never saw the wrong-way driver coming, and took no evasive action. Also, the mother was not wearing a seatbelt, and the child was neither in a child seat nor wearing a seatbelt, but was jumping around on the back seat. Now who’s to blame? Can we agree that the drunk driver is primarily to blame, but the mother shares part of the blame, for failing to mitigate the harm to herself and her child? 

So, who is to blame for the terrorist attack on Israeli kibbutzim? The terrorists, of course -- primarily. But the Israelis who were completely unprepared to fight back must accept some blame, for forgetting about the slogan, “Never again.”

How did that happen? How did Israel go from a nation of lions to a nation of sheep, with neither guns, skill, or will to kill people trying to kill them? One of the underlying themes of “Never again” (which originated in 1945) was the idea that if Jews had their own country, then “never again” would they be attacked by their next-door neighbors, as they were throughout Europe.
Maybe once Israel was created in 1948, complacency set in, as people thought, “OK, now that we have our own country, we are safe. We have fences, and walls, and observation posts, and a strong army, so we don’t need to take individual responsibility for our own safety.” Clearly (and to many of us, predictably) that did not work out so well.

In his book, Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorism (1995), none other than Benjamin Netanyahu (of all people) wrote: "Restrict ownership of weapons. Tighten gun control, beginning with registry of weapons. Israeli law, for example, requires careful licensing of handguns and prohibits the ownership of more powerful weapons, yet gun ownership is widespread” (page 147). Maybe gun ownership was widespread in 1995, but in the ensuing years, Netanyahu’s careful licensing of handguns, and prohibition of rifles and submachine guns, effectively neutered a once-proud people. For fostering complacency and unreadiness, he must accept part of the blame.  

Note that there were a few (regrettably, very few) Israelis who were prepared, and did fight back. And they won. The most famous, Inbal Rabin-Lieberman, is a 25-year-old woman who organized the defense of Kibbutz Nir-Am. Her twelve-member security team, armed with rifles, killed 25 terrorists over a period of three or four hours, until the IDF arrived. (“When minutes count, the IDF is only hours away.”) There were zero, repeat, no, li’eppes casualties among the approximately 800 residents of Nir-Am. The fight-backers won, 25-0.

Wait a minute – what’s wrong with this picture? Twelve people with rifles to protect 800? Why weren’t all of the adults armed?

Like many (most) Americans, I was under the impression that the Israeli populace was armed, with Uzi submachine guns and Galil rifles, in accordance with the spirit of “Never again.” Wrong. Over the years, the Israeli government (and people) have become more “liberal” politically (ironically, meaning “more restrictive”). Now gun ownership in Israel is rare. Something like 2% of the population have permits to own guns, but only handguns – no Uzi or Galil or AR15 ownership permitted. Furthermore, they are permitted to possess only 50 rounds of ammunition at a time! For those readers who are not shooters, 50 rounds is barely enough for a short practice session. In other words, those few Israelis who get their government’s permission to own handguns are effectively prevented from developing any proficiency with them. Brilliant.

Good news! As a result of the terrorist attack, the Israeli government has decided to relax the restrictions, and permit the potential victims of terrorism to possess – are you ready? – 100 rounds of ammunition! Whoop-ti-do. These are unserious people, who do not take the concept of “Never again” seriously.

One report said that the procedures for handgun licenses will be eased, and that 8,000 people have applied for permits. Eight thousand? Out of seven million Jews? Is that a joke? Neither the government nor (apparently) the people have recalled the spirit of “Never again.” In a country surrounded by people openly proclaiming their desire to kill every Jew (and acting on it), every Israeli adult should be demanding the right to carry a handgun at all times, everywhere; and there should be one rifle for every adult in every home. If the government were serious about “Never again,” it would be requesting four or five million rifles from the U.S., and seven magazines and a thousand rounds for each rifle. Every kibbutz and every town would have a shooting range where people could practice.

Here’s the catch, though: just owning a gun is not enough. As the late Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper wrote, “You are not ‘armed’ because you own a gun, any more than you are a ‘musician’ because you own a guitar.”  

Of course, an armed populace (i.e., “militia”) needs to be trained in marksmanship and tactics (i.e., “well-regulated”), but even more important that that is mental conditioning, what Cooper called “Combat Mindset,” or “fighting spirit,” the readiness and willingness to fight.  “Hell no, I won’t get in that railroad car.” “Hell, no, I won’t surrender.” “Hell no, I won’t allow myself to be taken hostage.”
The sheep-person’s bleat is that if he resists, he will be killed. That excuse may have been valid for the Jews who allowed themselves to be herded into the railroad cars in Germany, thinking their lives would be spared, but now we know better. Now we know that if you don’t fight back, you certainly will be killed, but if you do fight back, you only probably will be killed. (And remember the 25-0 score of the Nir-Am kibbutzniks.) If you are going to die either way, you might as well take one or two of the terrorists with you.

Having a gun is a great morale-booster and force-multiplier, making it easier to decide to fight back, but not having a gun does not preclude Combat Mindset. If you know you are about to die, you can throw yourself at a terrorist and drive your thumbs into his eyes before he knows what is happening. You can hit him upside the head with a frying pan. You can stick a butter knife between his ribs. If your choice is to die curled up on the floor, begging “Please don’t cut my baby’s head off,” or die with your thumbs in a terrorist’s eye sockets, then for G_d’s sake, die fighting.

“Fight back!  Whenever you are offered violence, fight back!  The aggressor does not fear the law, so he must be taught to fear you.  Whatever the risk, at whatever the cost, fight back!"