Retired Brig. Gen. Charles McGee, a legendary member of the Tuskegee Airmen, has passed away at the age of 102 on Jan. 16, 2022.
McGee completed 409 air combat missions in his career.
He was one of the last surviving pilots from the Tuskegee Airmen — a group of African American pilots who were credited not only for their service in World War II, but also for breaking barriers.
As reported by WTOP News, of the 355 Tuskegee pilots, McGee was one of only 8 remaining pilots who flew in combat.
Born in Cleveland, Dec. 7, 1919, McGee thrived as a leader from an early age, becoming a distinguished Eagle Scout. According to the article Tuskegee Airman celebrates 102nd birthday at 12th FTW, by Lori A. Bultman, 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs, he continued to lead throughout his military career after enlisting in the US Army as a pilot Oct. 26, 1942.
McGee earned his pilot’s wings Jun. 30, 1943. By February 1944, he was stationed in Italy with the 301st Fighter Squadron of the 332d Fighter Group, flying his first mission on Valentine’s Day.
During World War II, McGee flew the Bell P-39Q Airacobra, Republic P-47D Thunderbolt and North American P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft, escorting Consolidated B-24 Liberator and Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers over Germany, Austria and the Balkans.
By the time he was promoted to captain, McGee had flown 137 combat missions. He returned to the US in December 1944 and became an instructor for the North American B-25 Mitchell bombers, remaining at Tuskegee Army Air Field until 1946, when the base was closed.
After the war, McGee was sent to Lockbourne Air Field in Columbus, Ohio, to become the base operation and training officer, then he was sent to an aircraft maintenance technical course and was assigned to an air refueling unit.
When the Korean War began, McGee flew P-51 Mustangs again in the 67th Fighter Bomber Squadron, completing 100 missions and being promoted to the rank of major.
He continued his service in the Department of Defense’s new aviation branch, the US Air Force, where he continued to be a fighter pilot.
During the Vietnam War, then Lt. Col. McGee flew 172 combat missions in a McDonnell RF-4 photo reconnaissance aircraft. This topped off his 30-year active service career in which he accumulated 409 fighter combat missions.
Since retiring around 50 years ago, he was presented with the Congressional gold medal by President George W. Bush, became a part of the National Aviation Hall of Fame and received many other honors.
But McGee didn’t just spend the last half of a century winning awards. In fact, his family says he had some of his best experiences during the last three years of his life.
To celebrate his 99th and 100th birthdays, he flew three state-of-the-art business jets.
His final trip was on Dec. 6, 2021 to celebrate his 102 birthday on Air Force T-37 VIP Air Transport from Joint Base Andrews to visit the 99th Flying Training Squadron, 12th Flying Training Wing, at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph.
McGee and several members of his family were treated to a heritage tour of the 99th Flying Training Squadron, where they also saw a T-1A Jayhawk on the nearby flightline with his name painted on the side.
The visiting group, which included three of McGee’s children, then visited a flight simulator facility where they participated in a training mission in a T-1A aircraft simulator.
The visit concluded with the presentation of a gift, a model T-7A Red Hawk, and a celebratory serenade by squadron members as a cake was placed in front of McGee. The T-7 Red Hawk, the Air Forces’ newest trainer aircraft, honors the tradition of the Tuskegee Airmen and the P-51 Mustang “Red Tail” aircraft that they piloted during World War II.
McGee’s family said in a statement that he was a “living legend known for his kind-hearted, and humble nature, who saw positivity at every turn.”
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Sean M. Worrell