|Tuskegee Airman Joe Gomer signs autographs after his appearance at the Galaxie Library|
Last week’s blog outlined Tuskegee Airman Joe Gomer’s early years and his deployment to Italy as a Tuskegee-trained pilot. Joe had spoken at an event sponsored by the Galaxie Library in Apple Valley, MN on February 25. Here are some more anecdotes that Joe shared that day regarding actually flying in combat and his homecoming.
- [Recall from last week’s blog that when the pilots got new aircraft in the field, flight training consisted of reading the manual and familiarizing oneself with the cockpit before flying it – there were no flight instructors to help out.] The first time Joe flew a P-51 in combat was on a five-hour mission. He saw a buddy in trouble below him with two Germans closing in so Joe “pushed the stick forward to get down there to help. I knew the thing could go more than 500 miles an hour but I wasn’t prepared for the immediate response and didn’t know how to slow the Mustang down. I waved at the German as I flew by. I did figure out how to pull out of the dive before I got into trouble but that beginning gave me a lot of respect for what that airplane could do.”
- Joe was asked about rotating in and out after a certain number of flights. He said, “We didn’t talk about rotation. Because we only had a limited number of pilots training at Tuskegee, we had to fly more combat missions that our white counterparts who had replacements lined up to take over for them. Twice, I was the only one of my tentmates to survive – all of the others had been lost. What didn’t bother me then gets to me now – how lucky I was.”
- On one mission in his P-51 Mustang, Joe lost his canopy. Because he forgot to put his goggles on at the beginning of the mission, he was grounded due to wind-burned eyes.
- One questioner from the audience asked Joe how Europeans treated them as black men. He said, “The local Italians treated us the same way they treated the white military. That continued until the end of the war. In fact, the accepting nature of the Europeans led a good number of black soldiers to retire in Europe. The white military still had a problem with us, though. Like all Army Air Corps bases, ours was available as a landing field in case of an emergency. One man who had landed there refused to share a tent with black men. He went so far as to put his cot outside and tried to sleep out there. It got so cold he had to come in. As far as I’m concerned, integration in the military started in the skies over Europe and in the POW camps.”
Joe flew his first combat mission in January, 1944 and was released to return home on Christmas Day of that year. He reported to the USS America to sail home. The ship's officer that was helping to check the returning soldiers in took one look at Joe’s black face, saw the “N” next to his name and told him to go to the end of the line. Joe was the last man to board the ship. Joe said, “Here I was, a combat-experienced pilot and an officer to boot and this little so-and-so treated me like that. That episode hurt me worse than any shrapnel could have. It took me years to be able to talk about it. I did my duty as an American soldier but I didn’t necessarily hate the Germans. However, if I had felt about the Germans the way I felt about how I was treated that day by that man, the war would have been over a lot sooner!”
Joe returned home to Iowa Falls, Iowa and was a hero for “about two weeks.” He put in for R&R and was given orders for Santa Monica, California. Someone changed his orders and he was sent to New Orleans instead, back into the deep South where he had spent so many months training to be a pilot. “I was in uniform but still had to be very careful,” Joe said. “White people were shooting and lynching black men in uniform – it was crazy.”
Joe stayed in the Air Force for 22 years. Upon retiring from the military, he and his family lived in Duluth, Minnesota where he worked with the U.S. Forestry Service as a personnel officer. He retired from there in 1985. For more information about Joe’s life, I recommend reading the website that his daughter created for him. Click here to go there.
The CAF’s fabulous B-29 Flying Fortress FiFi will be at the TICO AirShow in Titusville, FL on March 9-11. This air show is put on by the Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum there, and the schedule looks awesome.
Speaking of awesome, FiFi was here at the Daytona Beach Airport last weekend and I went to see her. So did lots of other people. Little kids all the way to WWII vets in their 80s and 90s stood uncomplainingly in line to get up close to her.
|The main attraction certainly was!|
I walked around and snapped some pictures of FiFi and the two P-51s that were also on the tarmac – The Brat III and E Pluribus Unum (top and bottom pictures respectively). The Mustangs fit in beautifully with FiFi and the WWII-vintage military vehicles also on display.
The three airplanes were available for rides and to my delight, FiFi’s flight pattern took her right over the house as she flew passengers north along the Atlantic coast and then over the house again after she turned around to go back to the airport.
|FiFi was actually substantially lower than my photo indicates.|
I’m sure the neighbors thought I was one strange bird to go racing out to the street (best view) each time I heard the music of those four engines but I really didn’t care. She’s a treat to see and hear, no matter where you are.
RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit
The RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit is at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma through tomorrow. Admission is free (as always) so if you know folks in the area, tell them to hustle on down to see the Traveling Exhibit's wonderful "Rise Above" movie.
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit redtail.org.