By David A. Keene

A few years ago in the wake of the release of
“Saving Private Ryan” and the publication
of Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation,” it became almost commonplace to note the passing of the generation of Americans who braved the great depression, defeated the Nazi’s in Europe and the Japanese in Asia, and handed us all a richer, stronger, and perhaps better nation than they had inherited.

The truth of that commonplace struck me as the New Year began with the passing of two men I have known and admired. Joe Foss and Jay Hubbard both died early on New Years Day and neither will be forgotten by anyone who knew them. Joe was 87 and Jay was 80.

They were both Marines. Joe was America’s greatest ace, having downed some 26 Japanese planes during the defense of Guadalcanal in 1942. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Roosevelt after having already won the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart. He went on to become a television personality, was elected Governor of South Dakota, became Commissioner of the American Football League and President of the National Rifle Association.

Tom Brokaw devoted an entire chapter to Joe’s life in his book.

Jay spent World War II on the ground. He saw fierce fighting at Bougainville, Emirau, Guam, and Okinawa as US forces fought their way back across the Pacific following Pearl Harbor. After World War II, he too became an aviator and managed to see two more wars as a pilot. He led the air strikes in 1951 that made it possible for US troops fighting in Korea to finally take what became known to history as “Heartbreak Ridge.” He retired as a Brigadier General. The Marine Corps’ Aviation museum in Miramar is named for him and he won every medal that Foss wore with the exception of the Congressional Medal of Honor.