SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — A new biography about one of South Dakota’s most famous home-grown heroes is now on sale. “American Ace,” tells the story of the late former Governor Joe Foss, from his childhood in Sioux Falls to his exploits as a highly-decorated World War II pilot. But this new book is a far-cry from most traditional biographies you’ll find on the bookshelf.
To many people, Joe Foss may be just a namesake and a statue at Sioux Falls Regional Airport. Local artist Hector Curriel certainly didn’t know much about Foss when he first started researching an art project for the airport six years ago.
“I started reading and submerging myself in his story and it was really fascinating, what he did is remarkable,” Curriel said.
Curriel soon discovered he wasn’t the only one who knew little about Foss.
“And I started asking people in the city how many remember about Joe Foss? And unfortunately, not too many, especially youth,” Curriel said.
Curriel hopes others will be as inspired by Foss’s life as he is. That’s why he’s written a book titled American Ace using the graphic novel format to tell the very real story of this decorated World War II pilot.
“Because my goal in this book is to show what made Joe Foss. Why he was the kind of person he was, to be successful in life,” Curriel said.
Curriel took his idea for a graphic biography of Foss to the South Dakota Historical Society Press.
“When I first heard of this, I thought, you have to tell me, what is this again? What are we doing? And then, they showed me the artwork and this is amazing. This is good stuff,” South Dakota State Historian Ben Jones said.
State Historian Ben Jones says the decision to publish the book in the graphic novel format, popular with young readers, was a no-brainer.
“Joe Foss is such a compelling character and has such a great story that we knew that kids and young adults would be introduced to Joe’s story and in a way, that would immediately resonate with them,” Jones said.
The book starts with Foss’s Depression-era childhood in Sioux Falls and then goes to his high-flying heroics as a World War II pilot in the South Pacific.
“He got the highest-ranking planes shot down, about 26, because of that, he received the Medal of Honor by President Roosevelt,” Curriel said.
Curriel illustrated all 130 panels of the book and wrote the dialogue. The frenzied action of combat lends itself to the graphic format.
“It’s like making a movie, so keep that attention, the motion. Also, many of the scenarios in the story happened during the war, the dogfighting, so you try to bring the motion, the drama in the moment to the pictures,” Curriel said.
Timing is everything in the publishing world and Curriel’s new book comes out on the 80th anniversary of the first American combat missions during World War II, including Foss’s first dogfights.
“We’ll see a lot of 80th anniversaries as fewer and fewer of the World War II veterans are around, it’s an opportunity to talk about what they did and to engage in that and the story of the Second World War,” Jones said.
A story told through the artistic talents of Curriel. Detailing Joe Foss’s love of country and his home state, panel by panel.
“His life was about family values, sacrifice, the perseverance in your dreams,” Curriel said.
Curriel wants to create another South Dakota-based graphic biography, but hasn’t decided on a subject just yet.
You can purchase his book through the South Dakota Historical Society Press.