OBITUARY – for Joseph Philip Gomer, written by Phyllis G. Douglass
Appearing in the Duluth News & Tribune Newspaper on Monday, October 14, 2013
Joseph Philip Gomer passed away on October 10, 2013 at the age of 93; at Ecumen Lakeshore in Duluth. He was born in Iowa Falls, Iowa, on June 20, 1920, growing up as one of two African American families within a population of 5,000. From the age of 12, he worked in his father’s janitorial business while attending school. He graduated from Iowa Falls High School with honors in 1938. With the death of his father the year of graduation, local businesses and friends of the family provided him with a scholarship to attend Ellsworth Community College (ECC), where he completed a pre-engineering program.
In 1942, at the age of 22, he enlisted in the Army Air Force, and was sent for flight training at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. Joseph married Elizabeth Caperton on March 12, 1949, and had two daughters. After many years in the military, and living throughout the world, they made Duluth their final home in 1963.
In World War II, Joseph served as a member of the esteemed Tuskegee Airmen, as a fighter pilot. He flew 68 combat missions in P-47s and P-51s over northern Africa, Italy and Germany. He stayed in the military after the war, returning to Tuskegee Air Field to train other pilots. He was transferred to become a chief maintenance officer at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, and then flew troop transport helicopters in Japan and Korea during the Korean War. He later transferred to Andrews Air Force Base, where he coordinated the first helicopter flights to transport President Dwight D. Eisenhower and other officials in Washington, D.C. Subsequent Air Force assignments trained him in air defense and nuclear weapons, the latter taking him to the French River, just north of Duluth, Minnesota where he became a nuclear weapons officer. Gomer retired from the military as a major in 1964, after 22 years of service. He had the honor of meeting one Pope, two Presidents, and attended the inauguration of a third; President Obama.
Following the service, Joseph worked for the U.S. Forestry Service as a personnel officer. He would often bring minority youths up from the Twin Cities for work detail in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area; and often brought them home to dinner. Upon retirement in 1985, he was presented with a Superior Services Award by the Secretary of Agriculture in Washington, D.C.; for his work providing equal opportunities for minorities and women.
Joseph received numerous awards including an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities from the Board of Trustees of Ellsworth College, his alma mater, in 2004, and the AACC Alumni Award by Ellsworth Community College in 2006. As a member of the 332nd Fighter Group and 477th Bomber Group, he was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal; the highest award given by Congress. He loved speaking throughout the United States, especially to children and young people, about the Tuskegee Airmen and the importance of getting a good education. His key focus being self-empowerment, telling students, “You can be anything you set your mind to. The only true obstacle is you.”
Joseph was an active member and Lay Minister at Hillside United Methodist Church in Piedmont Heights, and served in multiple community efforts. His religious faith was the cornerstone for his life and accomplishments. An avid outdoorsman, he enjoyed camping and fishing with his “co-pilot”, Elizabeth, who passed away in November, 2012 at the age of 87. The summer months were spent in their motorhome at River Point Resort, trolling out on the lake doing what they loved most; reeling in fish, new friends, and relaxed companionship in the great outdoors. He is survived by his two daughters…