By BOTWC Staff
Legendary Tuskegee Airman Charles McGee has passed away, WSFA 12 News reports.
Brigadier General Charles McGee, the oldest of the nine remaining Tuskegee Airmen, has died. The retired colonel was considered one of the most celebrated pilots, getting drafted for the airmen when he was just a sophomore at the University of Illinois. The iconic pilots made history as the first Black military aviators in the U.S. service corps, existing before the creation of the U.S. Air Force. McGee served the country for more than three decades and flew over 400 combat missions in Korea, Vietnam and World War II. For his service, the Cleveland native was given a Congressional Gold Medal and promoted to honorary brigadier general by Congress.
McGee was just one of the 900 Black pilots who trained at the then segregated Tuskegee airfield in Alabama. After graduating from flight school in June 1943, he joined the all-Black 332nd Fighter Group known as the “Red Tails.” For him, his work was bigger than just flying combat missions.
“You could say that one of the things we were fighting for was equality. Equality of opportunity. We knew we had the same skills, or better,” he told reporters in a 1995 interview.
In his later years, McGee continued to be a face for the heroic airmen, highlighting not only their courage but all of the racism they had to overcome in the process.
In an essay McGee wrote for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, he got candid about some of those obstacles, writing, “At the time of the war, the idea of an all-African American flight squadron was radical and offensive to many. The prevailing opinion was the Blacks did not possess the intelligence or courage to be military pilots. One general even wrote, ‘The Negro type has not the proper reflexes to make a first-rate fighter pilot.’ The Tuskegee Airmen certainly proved men like him wrong.”
Despite all he’d been through, McGee remained resilient and lived a full and joyous life. In 2019, he attended the U.S. Air Force ceremony for the new Red Hawk aircraft, a trainer jet renamed in honor of the airmen. Later that year, in honor of his 100th birthday, McGee flew the friendly skies one last time, flying from Maryland to Delaware to commemorate the centennial celebration. In early 2021, he was featured in a documentary done by journalist Robin Roberts paying homage to her father, a fellow Tuskegee Airmen, and the other 921 airmen who fought in World War II. And on his 101st birthday last year, he passed the baton, inspiring a group of young aviators by joining them for a flight.
“The young folks are the future of this country. I don’t have too much time left here, so mentoring them is one of the most important things I can do,” McGee said.
Charles Edward McGee passed away in his sleep at his home in Bethesda, Maryland. He was 102 years old.
Thank you for your sacrifice and immense contributions, General McGee. Because of you, we can!
Photo Courtesy of Patrick Semansky/Associated Press