Former 1st Lt. Edward Gibson, an original Tuskegee airman,
smiles participates in an interview at Joint Base Charleston, S.C.,
on Feb. 16, 2012. Gibson served in the Army Air Corps as a
bombardier-navigator and logged 2,300 flight hours. U.S. Air Force
photo by Airman 1st Class Ashlee Galloway
JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. (3/30/2012) -- He stared at the faded
black and white photograph (below), his eyes filling with tears, as his mind
overflowed with nostalgic thoughts of a different era.
was a time when the United States was at war -- not only against
other countries, but also at war against itself for racial equality.
The photo he gripped tightly in his furrowed hands contained a
younger version of himself along with other men, all dressed in
military uniforms, smiling as they posed in front of a B-25 bomber.
However, their smiles did not reflect the turmoil that was prevalent
at the time.
His name is former 1st Lt. Edward 'Gibby'
Gibson, and he is a Tuskegee airman.
"If I could do it all
over again," said Gibson, pausing as he lowers the photo from his
sight, "I would."
Former 1st Lt. Edward Gibson, an original Tuskegee airman, is seen
in this photo (back row, right) in front of a B-25 bomber with his
crew during World War II in the mid-1940s. Gibson served in the Army
Air Corps as a bombardier-navigator and logged 2,300 flight hours.
Gibson was born in 1922. Growing up in Charleston, S.C., racial
segregation was an every day part of his life. But even in the
segregated south, Gibson had dreams of soaring above the prejudice.
He was fascinated with airplanes. However, he never dreamed that
fascination would one day bring him soaring through the clouds as a
Tuskegee airman. In fact, Gibson simply wanted to be treated like
"Back then, my family didn't have much money.
I would mow yards all day and only make 50 cents doing it. All of my
money went towards buying model airplanes that I put together
myself," said Gibson.
As Gibson grew older, his education
became more expensive, which meant spending less money on his
beloved model airplanes.
"I was the only African American at
an all white school," said Gibson. "The tuition
was $3.50, and even that was challenging for my family to afford.
Instead of buying model planes, any money that I made went toward my
Gibson was drafted into the Army Air Corps in 1942 and was
stationed at Walterboro, S.C. Due to his outstanding education and
work ethic, he was allowed to test to become an officer. After
successfully passing his examination, he was sent to aviation cadet
training at Keesler Army Airfield in Biloxi, Miss.
dream of flying airplanes for the U.S. military was becoming a
reality. He was one of only four cadets chosen from Keesler Army
Airfield to go to the Tuskegee Institute at Tyndall Airfield in
Panama City, Fla.
Gibson was part of a program called the
"Tuskegee Experiment." The program taught African Americans how to
fly and maintain combat aircraft. A Tuskegee aircrew consisted of
pilots, navigators, bombardiers, instructors, maintenance personnel
and support staff, all of whom played a vital part in keeping their
planes in the air.
"I was so excited when they chose me to
train at the Tuskegee Institute," said Gibson, who served as a
bombardier. "It was the most thrilling experience of my life."
Despite enduring constant ridicule and prejudice by many white
service members, Gibson, along with the other Tuskegee airmen,
persevered. They were determined to do their part in fighting the
war. However, in the grand scheme of things, they were changing the
U.S. military forever.
After Gibson completed his bombardier
training, he was sent to Midland Field, Texas, to train to become an
aircraft navigator. It was there that Gibson received his navigation
wings and was commissioned as an officer.
"I was so excited
to go home and see my family after I was commissioned," said Gibson.
"My family was so proud to see me wearing my aerial gunner uniform
and I was able to show the world that I was an officer in the
military for my wonderful country."
However, when Gibson
returned home, he didn't receive a warm welcome from everyone.
"I was walking down the street and some white military officers
came up to me and asked where I got my uniform," said Gibson. "I
told them I was in the military, but they didn't believe me. I was
arrested on the spot for impersonating an officer. At the time, I
couldn't believe what was happening.
"My mother couldn't even
get me out of jail," said Gibson. "She had to ask her employer, who
was white, to get me out."
The discrimination didn't
After being released from jail, he went to
Godman Field, Fort Knox where he became a bombardier navigator for
the 477th Bombardment Group, 616th Squadron flying B-25 bombers.
While Gibson and his crew were training for the invasion of Japan,
the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, resulting
in the end of World War II.
Gibson went on to join the Army
Reserve before eventually leaving the military.
separating from the Reserve, Gibson, along with seven other African
American men, were chosen to take an exam for an apprentice program
at the Charleston Naval Shipyard. These men were the first African
Americans to be accepted into the program, however, they were once
again subject to racial discrimination by their white co-workers.
"The instructor at the shipyard wouldn't help me because of
the color of my skin," said Gibson. "He wouldn't answer my
questions, made life difficult for us and even used some pretty
offensive language. This just gave me the inspiration to prove him
Gibson used his military training and the lessons he
learned from those less tolerant of others, to forge a path for
other minorities to follow.
Gibson served as the first
full-time equal employment counselor at the Charleston Naval
Shipyard, handling more than 1,000 cases of alleged discrimination.
He retired from the shipyard after 38 years, in 1980.
these experiences made me stronger," said Gibson.
never forget that I am able to call myself an original Tuskegee
airman, something very few of us can say," said Gibson. "America
isn't perfect and she may be down on her luck, but I will be there
to hold her hand until she gets well."
By USAF Airman 1st Class Ashlee Galloway
Joint Base Charleston
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