The movie spit-shined things up a bit, but George Lucas’ account of a World War II all-black Army Air Corps got a thumbs up review from Joe Gomer, who flew 68 missions with the Tuskegee Airmen.
“Our aircraft weren’t as shiny, and living conditions weren’t that good,” Gomer said. “It was an excellent movie. I really enjoyed it.”
Gomer was part of a sold-out screening of “Red Tails” Friday night at Zinema 2, an opening night show that included a pitch from the Northland Veteran Services Committee. The group is trying to raise money for a life-sized bronze statue of Gomer in his flight suit that will be erected at the new Duluth International Airport terminal.
Gomer hung around after the movie for a Q&A session, which turned into a meet and greet with the veteran’s fans, an audience that gave the movie a round of applause and him a standing ovation.
The movie starring Cuba Gooding Jr. is set in Italy in the early 1940s, when the military was segregated. A unit of young, bored pilots used hand-me-down planes to take out German trucks and trains. The crew is itching for a piece of real air action and eventually gets called up to support bombers.
As for real life versus big screen: “That’s as close as you can get to the truth for the public,” said Gomer, who said he lost all of his tent mates in the war and that even after serving, he was relegated to the back of the line by a man he called a “short, fat redneck” before boarding the ship home.
Jennifer Harris was in the audience and picked up an autographed copy of the movie poster that the Northland Veteran Services Committee was auctioning. She said the movie was excellent and had raves for George Lucas for funding the project.
“We appreciate this opportunity for young people to see history that didn’t get into history books,” she said. “That they can be anything they want to be. The story of how African Americans have been treated in the military has been so underrated.”
Harris stuck around after the show and hoped to get a photograph with Gomer.
Harris planned to hang the poster in her house for her three children to see. She said they have two Tuskegee Airmen GI Joe figurines.
Nicholas Guiliani, 17, was at the movie wearing a “Red Tails” cap that Gomer gave him.
Guiliani knows Gomer from church and first just thought he was a “cool old guy.” Then he learned more about Gomer’s background, history that he said wasn’t mentioned in his high school history classes until last year.
“He’s always been my hero,” Guiliani said.