Charles McGee (Tuskegee Airman)

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Charles E. McGee
20140327-OASCR-LSC-0021 (13473191754).jpg
McGee in 2014
Born (1919-12-07) December 7, 1919 (age 100)
Cleveland, Ohio
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branchUnited States Army Air Forces
Years of service1942–1973
RankBrigadier general
Unit332nd Fighter Group
(Tuskegee Airmen)
Commands held16th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron
Battles/warsWorld War II
Korean War
Vietnam War
AwardsCongressional Gold Medal
(with all other Tuskeegee Airmen)
Legion of Merit (2)
Distinguished Flying Cross (3)
Bronze Star Medal
Air Medal (26)

Brigadier General Charles Edward McGee (born December 7, 1919) is a retired American fighter pilot and one of the last living members of the Tuskegee Airmen, an all African-American military pilot group who fought during World War II (as part of the 332d Fighter Group). He was a career officer in the United States Air Force for more than 30 years and flew a three-war total of 409 combat missions in WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, one of the highest combat totals and longest active-duty careers by any Air Force fighter pilot in history.

For his service, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross and Bronze Star Medal, along with many other military honors. In 2007, as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, McGee received the Congressional Gold Medal. In 2011, he was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame and on February 4, 2020, was promoted from colonel to brigadier general.[1][2]

Early years[edit]

Charles McGee was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on December 7, 1919, to Lewis Allen and Ruth Elizabeth (Lewis) McGee. His father was at various times a teacher, social worker, and an African Methodist Episcopal minister (later a Unitarian minister), work which led to frequent moves.[3] He had two siblings, his older brother Lewis Sr. and his younger sister Ruth. His mother died shortly after her daughter was born.[4]

As a child, McGee was a member of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and earned the Eagle Scout award on August 9, 1940. He later served in district and regional positions in the Boy Scouts. At the 2010 National Scout Jamboree, he was recognized with the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award.[5]

McGee met Salem Baptist Church member Frances Nelson in April 1942. They were married at her home by his father on October 17, 1942. They would have three children, Charlene, Ronald, and Yvonne.[6] The day after their wedding, he was sworn in as an Aviation Cadet.

World War II[edit]

McGee's P-51B Mustang, nicknamed "Kitten" after his wife. The Tuskegee Airmen's aircraft had distinctive markings that led to the name, "Red Tails"[N 1]

In March 1942, McGee was a sophomore at the University of Illinois studying engineering. While a student he was a member of the National Society of Pershing Rifles. He also became a member of the Tau chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Enlisting in the United States Army on October 26, 1942, he would in time become part of the Tuskegee Airmen, having already earned his pilot's wings and graduated from Class 43-F on June 30, 1943.[8]

By February 1944, McGee was stationed in Italy with the 302nd Fighter Squadron of the 332d Fighter Group, flying his first mission on Valentine's Day.[8][9] McGee flew the Bell P-39Q Airacobra, the Republic P-47D Thunderbolt, and the 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. During missions, he sometimes also engaged in low level strafing attacks over enemy airfields and rail yards.[10]

On August 23, 1944, while escorting B-17s over Czechoslovakia, McGee engaged a formation of Luftwaffe fighters and shot down a Focke-Wulf Fw 190.[11]

Now a captain, McGee had flown a total of 137 combat missions and was returned to the United States on December 1, 1944, to become an instructor for the North American B-25 Mitchell bombers that the 477th Bomb Group (Medium), another unit of the Tuskegee Airmen (based at Godman AAF, Kentucky, and later at Freeman AAF, in Indiana). He remained at Tuskegee Army Air Field until 1946, when the base was closed.[8]

Postwar[edit]

Lt. Col. McGee (right) served as Commander of the 16th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron in Vietnam; Lt. Tom Coney (left) flew as his backseater

After World War II, McGee was sent to Lockbourne Army Air Field (now Rickenbacker ANGB, Columbus, Ohio) to become the base operations and training officer, later in 1948, being posted to an Aircraft Maintenance Technical Course and was assigned to an air refueling unit. Continuing his service with the United States Air Force as it was reconstituted, McGee continued to serve as a fighter pilot, flying Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star and Northrop F-89 Scorpion aircraft.[12] When the Korean War broke out, he flew P-51 Mustangs again in the 67th Fighter Bomber Squadron, completing 100 missions, and was promoted to major.

During the Vietnam War, as a lieutenant colonel, McGee flew 172 combat missions in a McDonnell RF-4 photo-reconnaissance aircraft. During his Southeast Asia combat tour, McGee served as the Squadron Commander of the 16th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (TRS), of the 460th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, of which was based at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, in South Vietnam. The 16th TRS flew the RF-4C "photo-recce" Phantom II jet aircraft.

In a 30-year active service career, McGee achieved a three-war fighter mission total of 409 combat missions, one of the highest by any Air Force fighter pilot.[11]

After a series of other appointments both in the United States as well as in Italy and Germany, and promotion to colonel, McGee retired on January 31, 1973.[13] He ended his military career with 6,308 flying hours.[14]

Later years[edit]

Official USAF portrait of Colonel Charles E. McGee, circa 2012

After his military service, McGee held many prestigious functional and honorary positions around the field of aviation. In 1978, at the age of 58, he completed the college degree at Columbia College, over thirty years after his initial enrollment at the University of Illinois. Though interrupted by World War II, attaining a college degree had been a lifelong goal.[15]

McGee served as the Director of the Kansas City airport and as a member of the Aviation Advisory Commission. For over 30 years, he has been an ambassador of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., giving numerous public addresses and has received accolades including the National Aeronautic Association’s "Elder Statesman of Aviation." McGee served as National President of the Association from 1983 to 1985, and is currently serving as its president.[11]

In 2005, McGee intended to be part of a group of former Tuskegee Airmen, who flew to Balad, Iraq, to speak to active duty airmen serving in the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, the current incarnation of the 332nd Fighter Group.[16] However, McGee was not noted as being in Balad.[17]

McGee also served as a consultant to the 2012 George Lucas film, Red Tails.[18]

In 2018, to celebrate McGee's 99th birthday, businessman and former Air Force pilot Glenn Gonzales took McGee for a flight in a HondaJet, allowing McGee to take the controls of an airplane in flight for the first time in 37 years.[19] In April 2019, McGee was honored at the King Arts Complex in Columbus, Ohio.[20]

In December 2019, for his 100th birthday, McGee flew with a copilot in a Cirrus Vision Jet and a Cessna Citation M2. The Cirrus flight took him to Dover Air Force Base where he was welcomed by the base commander and many airmen, anxious to meet the Tuskegee Airman who helped break down barriers for them. He was feted at a lunch hosted at the AOPA National Aviation Community Center where he received awards and accolades from the FAA, the US Senate, the State of Maryland, the city of Frederick, Maryland, and numerous dignitaries. Those who flew with the colonel remarked that he handled the airplanes well and with little assistance.[21]

On February 2, 2020, McGee presented the coin for the coin flip at Super Bowl LIV, alongside three other fellow centenarian WWII veterans.[22][23]

Honors[edit]

Major McGee receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross in Korea in 1951

McGee was recognized for his combat and military service with a number of military decorations, including: Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster, Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters, Bronze Star Medal, Air Medal with 25 oak leaf clusters, USAF Commendation Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, Army Commendation Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, Korean Presidential Unit Citation, Hellenic Republic World War II Commemorative Medal, along with many related campaign and service ribbons.

On March 29, 2007, at a ceremony inside the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, President George W. Bush and the U.S. Congress collectively awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to McGee and all other surviving and deceased Tuskegee Airmen. The Congressional Gold Medal is the nation's highest civilian award.[14]

In 2011, McGee was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio.

On February 4, 2020, McGee was promoted from colonel to brigadier general.[1][24] It was authorized in legislation introduced in December 2019 shortly after his 100th birthday, by Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen and Representative Anthony Brown.[23] McGee was a special guest at the 2020 State of the Union Address, where President Donald Trump pinned the stars to his uniform in the Oval Office before delivering the address that day.[1]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Mosier, Jeremy L (February 5, 2020). "Tuskegee Airman receives promotion to brigadier general". U.S. Air Force. Retrieved February 6, 2020.
  2. ^ "Special Guests for President Trump's 3rd State of the Union Address". The White House. February 4, 2020. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  3. ^ Smith and McGee 199. pp. 12–14.
  4. ^ McGee, Noelle. "Trailblazing Tuskegee Airman: 'Life's been a blessing'". The News-Gazette.
  5. ^ Maw, Michael. "Tuskeegee Airman Presented Distinguished Eagle Scout Award: 2010 National Scout Jamboree." Boy Scouts of America. Retrieved: January 23, 2011.
  6. ^ Press, NOELLE McGEE For Rantoul. "An officer and a gentleman: Tuskegee Airman to be ride in Champaign Freedom Celebration parade". Rantoul Press.
  7. ^ Rice, Markus. "The Men and Their Airplanes: The Fighters." Tuskegee Airmen, 1 March 2000.
  8. ^ a b c Francis and Caso 1997, p. 323.
  9. ^ Sherman, Stephen. "The Tuskegee Airmen: First Group of African-American Fighter Pilots in WW2." acepilots.com, June 29, 2011. Retrieved: January 2, 2015.
  10. ^ Tillman 2012, p. 28.
  11. ^ a b c "Misconceptions About the Tuskegee Airmen." Air Force Historical Research Agency. Retrieved: February 16, 2018.
  12. ^ Ray, Mark. "National Treasure: Decorated Col. Charles McGee Continues to Impact America's Youth." Eagle Scout Magazine, Winter 2010, pp. 5–7.
  13. ^ Cooper et al. 1996, p. 116.
  14. ^ a b Francis and Caso 1997, p. 324.
  15. ^ "Flying high: interview with Col. Charles McGee." Archived January 3, 2015, at the Wayback Machine Columbia College Spotlight, July 2008. Retrieved: August 14, 2012.
  16. ^ "Tuskegee Airmen suit up, head to Iraq." USA Today, October 22, 2005.
  17. ^ "Aging Tuskegee Airmen visit Air Force unit in Iraq". archive.decaturdaily.com. Retrieved February 6, 2020.
  18. ^ "Columbia College alumnus Col. Charles McGee consults on George Lucas movie." Archived January 3, 2015, at the Wayback Machine Columbia College Connections. Retrieved: August 14, 2012.
  19. ^ Bergqvist, Pia (December 13, 2018). "Tuskegee Airman, Col. Charles McGee, Celebrates 99th Birthday in the Air". Flying Magazine.
  20. ^ Lanier, Shawn (April 24, 2019). "Kings Arts Complex honors Tuskegee Airman". WCMH.
  21. ^ Tallman, Jill (December 6, 2019). "Tuskegee Airman Celebrates 100th By Flying Cirrus Vision Jet". AOPA.
  22. ^ Amanda Jackson (February 3, 2020). "Four 100-year-old World War II veterans will participate in the Super Bowl coin toss". CNN.com. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  23. ^ a b Davis, Phil (February 2, 2020). "Maryland World War II veteran participates in Super Bowl coin toss". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  24. ^ Stone, Kevin (February 5, 2020). "Sen. Martha McSally 'had tears in eyes' twice during State of the Union". KTAR News. Retrieved February 6, 2020.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The red markings that distinguished the Tuskegee Airmen included red bands on the noses of P-51s as well as a red rudder; their P-51B and D Mustangs flew with similar color schemes, with red propeller spinners, yellow wing bands and all-red tail surfaces.[7]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Cooper, Charlie, Ann Cooper and Roy La Grone. Tuskegee's Heroes. St. Paul: Minnesota: Motorbooks International Publishing Company, 1996. ISBN 0-7603-0282-0.
  • Francis, Charles E. and Adolph Caso. The Tuskegee Airmen: The Men Who Changed a Nation. Boston: Branden Books, 1997. ISBN 0-8283-2029-2.
  • Smith, Charlene E. Mcgee and Charlene E. McGee. Tuskegee Airman: The Biography of Charles E. McGee, Air Force Fighter Combat Record Holder. Boston, Massachusetts: Branden Publishing, 1999. ISBN 978-0-8283-2186-0.
  • Tillman, Barrett. "Tales of the Red Tails; Inside the Tuskegee Legend: The men, the machines, the missions." Flight Journal, February 2012.

External links[edit]