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Local view: Preserve their legacies by honoring our veteran pilots

My love of all things aviation probably started in the womb. I was born on the Marine base at Camp Pendleton in California, was brought into the world by a Navy lieutenant and grew up with a daily parade of the world's finest right outside my fro...

Joe Gomer statue proposal
This is an artist's conception of the bronze statue that's to be unveiled today in Duluth of Tuskegee Airman Joe Gomer. File / News Tribune

My love of all things aviation probably started in the womb. I was born on the Marine base at Camp Pendleton in California, was brought into the world by a Navy lieutenant and grew up with a daily parade of the world's finest right outside my front door. I was steeped in tales of Jimmy Doolittle Air Raiders, who proved that the impossible was always possible. And it didn't hurt that superstars like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldren were all over television.

I was keenly aware that the aircraft were the tools, and the skill of the pilots created the heroes. And I wasn't alone. It's a badge of strength to be a pilot. But it's equally important to remember their sacrifices and honor their stories.

The company I work for, Thomson Reuters, believes that, too.

There are many brave Minnesotans who represent these heroes, one of whom is retired Army Air Corps/U.S. Air Force Maj. Joe Gomer. A Duluthian who served our nation as one of the Tuskegee Airmen, the nation's first black fighter pilots during World War II, Maj. Gomer helped end segregation in the Armed Forces. He's the last living Tuskegee pilot in Minnesota, and the Duluth community is stepping up to ensure his contributions to our country's history are preserved.

His 92nd birthday is approaching, and on Wednesday the Northland Veterans Service Committee, with support from Thomson Reuters and many others, will ensure his legacy through a commemorative bronze statue to be placed in the Duluth airport.

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The unveiling of the Maj. Gomer statue is one opportunity for the public to show its appreciation for our veterans. Additional ways to recognize, reflect on and understand the experiences of our veteran airmen in tangible ways exist in communities across the state, particularly next month surrounding Independence Day when we come together to celebrate our freedoms.

Maj. Gomer is a regular, VIP attendee of the annual Wings of the North AirExpo, taking place this year on July 14-15 at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie, Minn. Talk about a convergence of all-stars. AirExpo brings together the public and veterans from World War II through today, including Maj. Gomer, to celebrate our aviation history. The event features many of our nation's most popular and historical aircraft, including one of the aircraft flown by Maj. Gomer during his service, the legendary P-51 Mustang. AirExpo offers the public the chance to see these aircraft fly in formation and to climb into the cockpit or passenger area of some of the aircraft and experience firsthand where so many brave men and women spent some of the most intense, fear-filled moments of their lives. Meanwhile, the veterans who personally piloted the aircrafts are close by, eager to recount their combat stories and to help attendees picture these airplanes in action.

It's incredibly satisfying when the company you work for shares the respect and consideration for our nation's heroes. I'm pleased to be a part of such a wonderful event and grateful to be a part of the effort to build a statue in honor of Joe Gomer.

As a recognized Yellow Ribbon Company, Thomson Reuters' contributions stem from a company-wide commitment to servicemen and women and their families and a firm belief that their stories need to be remembered, honored and carried forward.

I encourage all aviation enthusiasts, veterans, individuals and families across the state to seek out and participate in activities to recognize our servicemen and women, like the unveiling of the Joe Gomer statue on Wednesday and the AirExpo. Together, through participation in important events like these, we can keep the legacies of our veterans alive.

Rick King is chief operating officer of technology for Thomson Reuters in Minneapolis.

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