Edward Gibson strode down to the corner of Meeting and Calhoun streets in full uniform as an Army Air Force cadet. He was on his first trip home while training with the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II.

"I'm all proud and everything," he recalled with a rueful chuckle a half century later. "I was immediately arrested. They had never seen a black person in an Air Force uniform." His mother had to bring her white employer to the police station to vouch for him, to get him released.

That's how it was for Gibson and nearly 1,000 other airmen -- segregated black pilots, navigators, bombardiers and mechanics -- who compiled one of the most daunting records of the war while battling discrimination, contempt and ridicule.

They were said to have never lost a plane they escorted.

Their service is roundly considered the factor that broke down segregation in the armed services. Their own neighbors and sometimes their families thought they were just telling tales.

Gibson, 89, of Charleston, is one of the few surviving Tuskegee Airmen in South Carolina, maybe the only one in the area.

He was a bombardier-navigator who trained partly in Walterboro, fulfilling a childhood dream to fly by logging 2,300 flight hours. His crew was prepped to invade Japan when the A-bomb dropped, effectively ending the war.

A member of the Walterboro chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc., a commemoration group, he will try to take part in the opening of "Red Tails" this weekend, even though it's tough for him to get around anymore.

After the prejudice of the time, winning acclaim a half-century later feels a little strange, Gibson conceded. But he holds on to Tuskegee Airmen medal the airmen were awarded in 2007. He's looking forward to the movie.

"We were proud of what we did and what we were going to do. I'm proud of the Air Force," he said. "We did a real good job because we were good, you hear me?"

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744.