Retired U.S. Air Force Major Joseph Gomer served as a fighter pilot with World War II's famed Tuskegee Airmen. Joe was born on June 20, 1920, in Iowa Falls, Iowa. From the time he was a small boy he dreamed of flying airplanes. Joe and his brother Charles attended school in Iowa Falls where there was only two black families in the town. His family was readily accepted and embraced by the community. His father owned a janitorial service and Joe worked for his father from the age of twelve. Joe graduated from high school in 1938 with honors. His father died that year. Local businesses and friends of the family pitched in money to help fund Joe's college education. He enrolled in the Pre-engineering program at Ellsworth College and graduated in 1940. He returned to Ellsworth later that year when the school offered flight instruction training through the Civil Aeronautics Authority to prepare pilots for military service. The "Ellsworth Air Force" learned to fly in a pasture outside of Iowa Falls. With the outbreak of World War II, Joe joined the Army and was approved for Aviation Cadet Training. He was sent to Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama pursuant to an experimental program launched by Congressional order to train black pilots. It was en route by train that Joe came face to face with racial discrimination outside the security of his hometown. At breakfast on the train the trainees were seated in the rear of the dining car and curtain drawn to keep them from view of the other passengers. Joe successfully completed pre-flight, basic and advanced training and was awarded his "wings" and commissioned a Second Lieutenant in May 1943. He was assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group and sent to the Group's 301st Fighter Squadron at Ramitrella, Italy. The 332nd served as escorts for ship convoys and bombers of the 15th Air force during bombing of the 15th Air force during bombing missions over Italy and Germany. They engaged German fighters and attacked enemy positions as well as targets of opportunity. They became known as "Red Tailed Angels" by white bomber pilots by the distinctive markings on their planes. The 332nd Fighter Group flew 311 missions of which 179 were escort duties. They lost 68 pilots killed in action and an additional 30 were shot down and captured. During their 179 bomber escort missions only 27 bombers were lost to enemy fighters. They were credited with destroying 261 enemy planes, damaging another 148 and sinking one enemy destroyer. Joe had his close calls. He crash landed his P-39 Aircobra, lost the canopy to his P-51 Mustang and while flying the P-47 Thunderbolt had it bullet-ridden by a German fighter that stitched a line of holes from the right wing to the fuselage missing him. After sixty-eight missions (for white pilots the maximum was fifty) Joe was rotated back to the United States. On Christmas day he arrived early at the troop transport ship in Naples and got in line to board the ship. When it came time to board, he reported to the officer who was checking off names on the passenger list. Joe's name had an "N" behind it. He was ordered to the end of the line by the bigoted captain and not allowed to board until all the white passengers were boarded. It was dark before he got on board. When not fighting Germans in the air his Group fought racism on the ground. "We shared the sky with white pilots, but that's all we shared. We never had contact with each other. German prisoners lived better than black serviceman, and the Germans treated us better than the Americans did. Our service to the country never got in the history books. We were fighting two wars; for our race and first class citizenship, and for our country. We were there to break down barriers, open a few doors and do our job." "But we're all Americans. That's why we chose to fight. I'm as American as anybody. My black ancestors were brought over here to help build America. My German ancestors came over to build a new life. Any my Cherokee ancestors were here to greet all the boats." At the end of WWII Joe remained in the military service. In 1948 the Armed Forces were officially integrated. Joe learned to fly helicopters and served with the 315th Air Division in Japan during the Korean War. He then became a nuclear weapons technician stationed near Duluth, MN with the Air Defense Missile Squadron. He retired from military service in 1964 after twenty-two years. Choosing to stay in the Duluth area Joe accepted employment with the US Forest Service as a local personnel officer. Twenty-one years later Joe retired again. He was presented a Superior Services Award by the Secretary of Agriculture for his work with minorities and women. After forty-three combined years of military and public service Joseph Philip Gomer continued to help others through local schools and his church. In 2004, the Ellsworth College Board of Trustees presented Joe with an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities. The College in 2009 presented him with a Distinguished Alumni Award. The statue of Joe Gomer at Ellsworth College represents more than his battle on two fronts during World War II, the Germans, and racial intolerance within the military and America. It also represents his success by a path of tolerance, integrity, respect, and compassion for others. This is what his parents taught him and what he has passed on to his children. It represents also, the fighting spirit shown by all American veterans in times of adversity and sometimes overwhelming odds from the days of the American Revolution to today. The Joe Gomer statue is located west of the Bullock-Jones building and was designed by artist Charles R. Taylor; sculpted by Sutto Betti, Loveland, CO, and cast by Art Castings Company of Loveland, CO.