Korean War veteran who designed Arizona’s Korean War Memorial dies at 85
Robert Gomez, the architectural designer of the Korean War Memorial at the Arizona Capitol, has died at the age of 85.
Gomez’s wife, Betty, said her husband died due to natural causes at their Phoenix home on Sept. 27.
Robert joined the U.S. Navy in 1951 at the age of 16 as part of a program that allowed students to help the military during the summer, Betty said. He became active duty when he graduated from high school and was placed on the USS Mt. McKinley where he worked as a clerk during the Korean War.
Betty said her husband left the service in 1957 and attended Arizona State University on the GI Bill where he studied and earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture. She added that Robert was one of only five people to have graduated from the university’s school of architecture in 1960, which has since grown much larger.
He and Betty met while attending ASU and they married in 1963.
Robert started his own firm where he focused on designing commercial businesses with restaurants and apartment complexes being his specialty. He also designed a school and gymnasium for Friendly House — a nonprofit organization that provides social services such as workforce readiness and early childhood development for marginalized communities.
More than a dozen articles in archived issues of The Arizona Republic mention him as far back as 1974 when he remodeled a social services center and designed a Mexican restaurant developed by Chicanos por la Causa.
“His specialty was the Mexican-food restaurants, which he did many of those throughout the Valley,” Betty said. “And also on the apartment complexes — he did many throughout the state of Arizona.”
Later articles say he won a contract to design a senior center in Guadalupe and oversaw a 1988-89 housing rehabilitation program there.
Loved ones said he was one of the first Hispanic architects in the state, but the state board that oversees architects’ licenses said it does not collect demographic information and couldn’t confirm.
Betty said her husband was selected to design the state’s Korean War Memorial, which was placed at the Wesley Bolin Plaza at the state Capitol in 1990.
The memorial features a massive bell housed underneath a rotunda with several metal plaques surrounding the bell. The message “freedom is not free” is emblazoned on part of the rotunda’s exterior in bold lettering.
She said Robert was deeply honored to be tasked with designing the memorial of the war he participated in, though regretted not being the one to visit Korea and choose the bell that was used.
Robert was also the architect behind the Father Albert Braun Memorial located in the same plaza. Braun was a chaplain in the U.S. Army where he served in World Wars I and II before moving to Phoenix where he founded the Sacred Heart Church.
Robert kept close ties with his alma mater and mentored many architecture students as they began their own burgeoning careers.
“He was just the most gentle, kindest, helpful person that there was,” Betty said. “He mentored many, many young people going into architecture.”
Betty said they vacationed in San Diego every year and often celebrated their honeymoon in New Orleans until Hurricane Katrina hit the city in 2005.
Outside of work, Robert was an avid outdoorsman with hunting, fishing and golf being some of his favorite hobbies. Betty said health issues forced him to give up…