Joe Gomer was born in Iowa Falls, Iowa, on June 20, 1920. When he was 22 years old, he enlisted in the Army and was sent to Tuskegee, AL, for flight training in an experimental all-black outfit that would become known as the Tuskegee Airmen. During WWII, the U.S. military was strictly segregated and prior to the war, African-Americans were not allowed to become military pilots.
Along with about 450 other Tuskegee Airmen, Joe flew the P-39, P-47, and P-51, providing escort and protection to bomber missions out of Italy. He flew 68 combat missions and survived several close calls, including a crash landing.
In part, the success of the Tuskegee Airmen helped to usher in the integration of the U.S. armed forces in 1948.
Joe remained with the Army Air forces after WWII and became a flight test maintenance officer with the 332nd at Lockbourne Air Force Base in Ohio. During the Korean War, Joe served with the 315th Air Division in Japan as a Wing Technical Inspector. After that he was assigned to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland where he was trained in air defense and nuclear weapons.
His nuclear weapon training brought him to Duluth, Minnesota where he became a nuclear weapons officer. After 22 years of service, he retired from the military as a major in 1964. He settled in Duluth with his wife and two daughters, where he worked for the U.S. Forestry Service as a personnel officer until 1985.
In 2004 he was inducted into the Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame. In 2007, Joe and the 332nd Fighter Group and 477th Bomber Group were presented with the highest award given by the House of Congress, The Congressional Gold Medal. He attended the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2008. Joe passed away in 2013 at the age of 93 in Duluth, Minnesota.