Sioux Falls connection creates lasting memory

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Yash Rojas
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
In the twilight of their careers, as their time in service draws to a close, Airmen reflect upon the landmarks of their Air Force journey. For one Ellsworth officer, at the top of his list was providing an American war hero - retired Air National Guard Gen. Joe Foss - with one last ride in the clouds.

Each Memorial Day, many share moments with family and friends honoring the memory of the fallen.

Lt. Col. Patrick Castle, 28th Medical Support Squadron commander and former Air Force Academy instructor, recalls the day he met Foss, the nation's second World War II fighter ace and Medal of Honor winner.

Castle never forgot those words he took to heart many years ago.

"Just give your best in all things [he told me],"said Castle when describing the war hero's advice. "Do the right thing ... And when you put those two things together, when a calling to serve like World War II comes about, these great things happen. It's when opportunity meets character and hard work, you get this great story of Joe Foss."

He met Foss when working as a chemistry instructor at the Academy in 2000. Castle was determined to find an appropriate speaker for the chemistry majors' graduation banquet and immediately thought of a fellow Sioux Falls native, retired ANG Gen. Joe Foss whom he admired but had never met.

With the assistance of the South Dakota National Guard in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Castle wasted no time in contacting Foss. When he called the number, a pleasant voice answered, he said. It was his wife, Donna.

Castle explained his plan to have Foss come to the Academy and wondered if she thought her husband would be interested. She said yes without hesitation and Castle shared his plans with Foss who agreed to come to the Academy in April to address the graduating cadets.

After the banquet he and Foss visited Mitchell Hall and other parts of the Academy, but Castle could only think of the glider ride he had planned later that day. It had been more than 30 years since Foss had last flown and it was likely this flight would be his final opportunity.

"It was amazing to be standing there grateful to have the opportunity to have arranged for what was likely [the] last flight of such a hero," Castle said.

In 2003 Foss passed away at 86 after suffering a severe stroke in October 2002, never regaining consciousness. It is unknown if Foss flew after that fini-flight.

"The odds of him piloting another aircraft after in his 80s that moment are probably slim to none," added Castle.

Overall, the experience was incredible Castle said, so much so that he was eager to have his story with Foss documented and share it with anyone who would listen.

Following his military career, Foss remained active in his community, and in 1955 at 39-years old was elected as one of South Dakota's youngest governors. He then became the first commissioner of the newly created American Football League in 1959. Foss also spent a little time in television programming, hosted ABC's the American Sportsman, and later was even elected president of the National Rifle Association for two consecutive terms.

"[He was] an incredible man of integrity and character," said Castle. "He embodied everything good in America."

Their meeting, while short, inspired Castle throughout his military career. And as he nears his Air Force retirement and his service is over at Ellsworth-- opposite of Sioux Falls, where it all started -- he still remembers the 83-year old man who motivated him to excel and aim for greatness.