Tuskegee Airman Charles McGee Dies at 102: ‘An American Hero and Legend’

Tuskegee airman Charles McGee, 100, and his great grandson Iain Lanphier react as President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Patrick Semansky/AP Photo

Charles McGee, the Tuskegee Airman who flew 409 fighter combat missions during three wars, passed away Sunday at 102-years-old.

He died in his sleep inside his home in Bethesda, Maryland, according to his son, Ron McGee, the Associated Press (AP) reported Monday:

After the U.S. entry into World War II, McGee left the University of Illinois to join an experimental program for Black soldiers seeking to train as pilots after the Army Air Corps was forced to admit African Americans. In October 1942 he was sent to the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama for flight training, according to his biography on the website of the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

“You could say that one of the things we were fighting for was equality,” he explained to the outlet in 1995. “Equality of opportunity. We knew we had the same skills, or better.”

What an amazing life that he lived. He will be missed.

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McGee later graduated from flight training in June 1943, and in 1944, became part of the all-black 332nd Fighter Group called the Red Tails.

He eventually flew 136 missions with the group as they accompanied bombers over Europe.

“McGee remained in the Army Air Corps, later the U.S. Air Force, and served for 30 years. He flew low-level bombing and strafing missions during the Korean War and returned to combat again during the Vietnam War,” the AP report said.

Today, we lost an American hero and legend. Brig. Gen. Charles McGee, one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen,…

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According to the National Aviation Hall of Fame, his 409 aerial fighter combat missions are still a record.

He retired as a colonel in 1973, earned a degree in business administration, then became a business executive. He was given an honorary commission promoting him to the rank of brigadier general when he turned 100.

In February of 2020, then President Donald Trump honored the Tuskegee Airman and his great-grandson during his State of the Union address.

“A few weeks ago I signed a bill promoting Charles McGee to Brigadier General, and earlier today I pinned the stars on his shoulders in the Oval Office. Gen. McGee, our nation salutes you. Thank you, sir,” Trump said:

A statement from his family described McGee as “a living legend known for his kind-hearted and humble nature, who saw positivity at every turn.”

Writing in a Smithsonian essay, McGee previously said he was asked many times why the Tuskegee Airmen had so much success during combat.

“I would say it was because of our courage and perseverance,” he explained. “We dreamed of being pilots as boys but were told it was not possible. Through faith and determination we overcame enormous obstacles. This is a lesson that all young people need to hear.”

He also said, “I am most proud of my work as a Tuskegee Airman that helped bring down racial barriers and defeat the Nazis.”

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