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Joel Walter Gatewood Jr.

joel  gatewood

March 23, 1946 ~ May 17, 2023

Born in: Wayne, NE
Resided in: Burke, VA

Joel Walter Gatewood, Jr., 77, formerly of South Sioux City, Nebraska, died Wednesday, May 17, 2023, at his residence in Burke, Virginia, after a valiant 14-year battle with multiple myeloma.

Born March 23, 1946, in Wayne, Nebraska, Joe was the son of Joel and Helen (Small) Gatewood. In 1965, Joe graduated from South Sioux City High School.  After graduating from the University of Nebraska in 1969 with a degree in business administration, Joe joined the Navy and reported to Naval Air Station Pensacola for Naval Aviation Officer Candidate School.  He was commissioned an Ensign in April 1970.

Before heading to Pensacola to begin his military career, he stopped in Miami to ask Marcia Chase, the girl he dated since high school, to marry him.  They were married on June 27, 1970, at the Aviation Memorial Chapel in Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. To this union was born a daughter, Emily Ann, who wrapped her Dad around her finger from the moment he held her in his arms.

Joe received his wings as a Naval Flight Officer in October of 1970.  His first deployment was with the Sundowners (VF-111) F-4 squadron aboard the U.S.S. Coral Sea.  He flew 319 combat missions in Vietnam where he was awarded an air medal with bronze star.  Joe was selected for the Navy Fighter Weapons School also known as “Top Gun” twice, in the F-4 Phantom and then in the F-14 Tomcat.  He was a flight instructor in VF-124, the F-14 training squadron at Naval Air Station Miramar.  He earned his master’s degree in business administration from Chapman College while stationed at Miramar.  Joe made two cruises as a Naval Flight Officer with the Screaming Eagles (VF-51) F-14 squadron on the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk and the U.S.S. Carl Vinson.  During his Naval career, Joe, whose call-sign was Plug, logged 3,500 flight hours and made 732 carrier landings. 

In 1984, Joe was promoted to the rank of Commander.  He received orders to the Naval Air Systems Command, Air-to-Air Program Management office near Washington D.C.  In September of 1987, Joe was assigned to a classified joint USAF-USN program located at Eglin Air Force Base at Fort Walton Beach, Florida.  Joe retired from the Navy with 21 years of service in 1990.

After retiring from the Navy, Joe worked for the Department of the Navy in foreign military sales.  His work took him to countries on six continents from 1990 until his retirement from the government in 2011.

Family meant everything to Joe.  Through all his work-related travels, he always managed to be home for every important event in his daughter’s life.   Joe’s faith was unshakable.  He was a member of the Messiah United Methodist Church where he faithfully made chili every month for a homeless shelter.  Since her birth, his granddaughter, Elizabeth, took hold of his heart and became the joy of his life.  Joe was a gentleman in every sense of the word.  Everyone who met Joe knew of his quick wit, easy going personality, optimistic outlook, and his kindness that had no boundaries.  He will be deeply missed by all who knew and loved him.

He is survived by his wife of 52 years; his daughter Emily (Josh) Murray; granddaughter Elizabeth; sisters Jacklynn (Wayne) Petersen, Jeanne (Tom) Barnes; brother James Gatewood (fiancée Ruth); sisters-in-law Linda (Keith) Schuster, Carole (Wayne) Dinkins; and beloved nieces and nephews.  He was preceded in death by his parents.

Burial will be at the Omaha National Cemetery.  Funeral arrangements are pending.  In lieu of flowers please send donations to the United States Navy Memorial (

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  1. Dear Marcia,

    I am so sorry for your loss. I know that you and Joe were very close, and I can only imagine how much you are hurting right now.

    I never had the pleasure of meeting Joe, but I know that he was a wonderful husband and father. Marcia, you have always been such a happy and positive person, and I know that Joe was so lucky to have you in his life.

    I know that Joe will be sorely missed by his whole family and friends. He was a kind and loving man, and he will always be remembered for his smile and his sense of humor.

    Please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family during this difficult time.


  2. I met Joe when we were both in AOCS at NAS Pensacola and kept in touch for years. We both were in the F-4 Phantom 2 but in different squadrons. I’ve added the poem below which honors Joe for his fantastic aviation career, his life and now he has touched the face of God.

    High Flight
    Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
    And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
    Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
    of sun-split clouds,—and done a hundred things
    You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
    High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
    I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
    My eager craft through footless halls of air ….

    Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
    I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
    Where never lark nor ever eagle flew—
    And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
    The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
    Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

  3. I remember when Joe and Marcia were stationed in San Diego. 1970’s they had me come down and stay with them during the summer. I had a great time. It was years later 2016 when Joe and Marcia came to see me and my husband in DC. When we had lunch together I told him I was retiring later that year. I guess he still remembered that little girl and said you can’t be old enough to retire! He will be missed.

  4. All of our love and prayers as you lay your beloved Joe to rest. We are grateful for his service to his country, but more so for his love of family and friends. We love you Marcia and pray God’s comfort and peace surround you.

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