Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com)
World War Two fighter pilot Joe Gomer grew up in Iowa during the 1930's, just outside the reach of the Jim Crow laws that segregated the southern U.S.
"I grew up assimilated. I wasn't segregated until I got into the military." said Joe Gomer during a 2004 interview.
Already a licensed pilot, Gomer was assigned to the all black Tuskegee Airmen.
The Army Air Force called them the Great Experiment.
"The War Department set it up as an experiment. They didn't think we were capable of handling these aircraft but we changed that into the great experience." said Gomer.
The Tuskegee Airmen were sent to Italy to protect bombers from Nazi fighter planes.
The unit's commander stressed strict discipline.
"Your responsibility is with those bombers and I'll court martial anybody that takes off to chase bandits without the authority to go." said Gomer.
Formally known as the 332nd Fighter Group and the 447th Bombardment Group, the Tuskegee Airmen gained a reputation for accomplishing missions succesfully.
But at a cost; Gomer lost several friends and several planes during the war.
"I'd crash landed a P–39 and had a P–47 shot up by and ME–109 that never flew again." said Gomer.
While fighting Adolph Hitler's forces, Gomer also had to fight the spirit of Jim Crow.
A racist captain made Gomer go to the back of the line twice while waiting for the ship that would carry him home.
"If I'd felt towards the Germans the way I felt towards that Captain, I would have been an ace many time over and it would be the Gomer Bridge instead of the Bong Bridge out there." said Gomer.
After the war, Joe Gomer was stationed at the Duluth Air Force Base.
He later worked for the Forest Service until 1985.
But, he never forgot his service against fascism overseas and racism at home.
In Duluth, Dave Anderson, KBJR 6 and Range 11.
Joe Gomer was 93 years old.
Funeral services are pending.