Retired U.S. Air Force Major Joseph Gomer served as a fighter pilot with World War II's famed Tuskegee Airmen. Gomer was born on June 20, 1920, in Iowa Falls, Iowa. From the time he was a small boy, he dreamed of flying airplanes.
Gomer and his brother attended school in a town where there were never more than three black families. The only black in his class, Gomer graduated from Iowa Falls High School with honors in 1938. He completed two years of study at Ellsworth College in Iowa Falls, where he took a class in flight instruction. When he enlisted in the Army in 1942, Gomer signed up for pilot training. His previous flying experience at Ellsworth qualified him to be sent to Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama to participate in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's new program to train black pilots. Gomer received his wings in May 1943. He was assigned as a second lieutenant to the segregated 332nd Fighter Group and sent to Ramitrella, Italy, to join the 301st Fighter Squadron.
A P-51C Mustang
The 332nd served as escorts for the 15th Air Force, running bombing missions in Germany. Engaging German fighters and attacking enemy positions, they fulfilled their mission to perfection — never losing a bomber to the enemy. The white bomber pilots called their guardians the "Red Tailed Angels" after the distinctive markings on their planes. Many of these pilots did not know their guardians were black. In Italy, the Red Tails flew more than 1,500 sorties, downing 111 enemy aircraft and sinking one
Joseph P. Gomer and his plane
German destroyer as sixty-six black pilots were killed in action. Gomer shared a tent with three other airmen, but within eight months all the others were killed. He crash-landed a P-39, lost his canopy and was bullet ridden in a P-47, but fought with skill and valor in more than sixty-eight sorties with the enemy. Fighting racism as well as the Germans, Gomer remained with the Air Force after the war and was still in service when President Harry S. Truman desegregated the military.
After retiring from the Air Force, Gomer worked for the U.S. Forestry Service, where he earned meritorious recognition for his work in providing equal opportunities for minorities. He currently lives with his wife, Elizabeth, in Duluth, Minnesota. He volunteers in schools and at church.