In the air
Born in Iowa Falls, Iowa, on June 20, 1920, Gomer was fascinated by model airplanes as a child. After graduating from high school, he completed the pre-engineering program at Ellsworth Community College before undergoing training designed to prepare pilots for the military. In July 1942, at age 22, he enlisted in the Army and was sent to Tuskegee, Ala., for flight training in the experimental all-black outfit that would become known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
The U.S. military was strictly segregated at the time, and blacks were not allowed to become military pilots before World War II.
During the war, Gomer and about 450 other Tuskegee Airmen flew more than 15,000 sorties over North Africa and Europe. They shot down 112 enemy aircraft and destroyed another 150 on the ground; disabled more than 900 railroad cars, locomotives, trucks and other motor vehicles; sank 40 boats and barges, and put a destroyer out of action. On 179 escort missions, they lost only 25 bombers to enemy fighters.
After the war, Gomer remained in the Army Air Forces, which became the U.S. Air Force in 1947.
Gomer married Elizabeth Caperton on March 12, 1949. The couple raised two daughters, and moved to Duluth in 1963. Elizabeth Gomer was long active in the community, serving as a member of the Duluth Charter Commission and as president of the League of Women Voters.
Elizabeth Gomer died of cancer on Nov. 4, 2012. She was 87.
Into the forest
In 1964, Gomer retired from the Air Force with a rank of major. He then worked 21 years for the U.S. Forest Service as a personnel officer. When he retired in 1985, the Secretary of Agriculture presented him with a Superior Services Award for his work with minorities and women.
Gomer remained active into his 80s and 90s, talking to school groups about the Tuskegee Airmen and the importance of education.
"People can be anything they want to be now," he said in a 2007 interview. "There is no glass ceiling. Education is the key."
Gomer received numerous honors in his later years. In 2002, he was among more than 100 black pioneers honored by the Chicago-based nonprofit HistoryMakers, which records, preserves and shares the life stories of African-Americans.
In 2004, Gomer -- the first black Iowan to become an officer in the U.S. Air Force -- was inducted into the Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame and received a Doctorate of Humanities from the Board of Trustees of Ellsworth College.
In 2007, Gomer, along with the rest of the Tuskegee Airmen, received a Congressional Gold Medal -- the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. Congress. During a March 29, 2007, ceremony in the U.S. Capitol building's rotunda, President George W. Bush saluted the unit members as a gesture, he said, "to help atone for all the unreturned salutes and unforgivable indignities" of the past.
Two weeks later, the city of Duluth, the Veterans Memorial Hall, and the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans-Duluth honored Gomer at a City Hall ceremony.
In 2008, he and other Tuskegee Airmen were invited to attend the 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama.
"I fought World War II segregated, I trained segregated, I flew segregated and I returned segregated," Gomer said in 2011. "But today we have President Obama, and never in my life did I dream that I would someday have a black commander in chief."
Earlier this year, a second statue of Gomer was unveiled in Iowa Falls.
"It is amazing to have two statues," Gomer said after the unveiling April 24.
Duluth Mayor Don Ness, on Gomer's 90th birthday, proclaimed "Joe Gomer Day." He said Friday that "while we mourn, we can also take comfort in knowing that he received the recognition he rightly deserved. Joe was able to witness the unveiling of a life-sized statue at the Duluth International Airport. The Joe Gomer Monument will forever serve as a reminder of Joe's vast contributions to our community and country."
Durbin said he has just one wish when it comes to Gomer's legacy.
Six decades after completing their World War II mission and coming home to a country that discriminated against them because they were black, the Tuskegee Airmen are getting high honors from...
Carter was one of several original Tuskegee Airmen who returned to Tuskegee University to celebrate the film premiere of "Red Tails" in January.
They Dared to Fly" will be held Thurs., Feb. 10 through Sat., Feb. 12 and feature several open-forum/question-and-answer sessions as well as meet/greet autograph signings with five of the original...
Survivors of the unit will receive the Congressional Gold Medal for their work as fighter pilots during World War II.