Celebrated Tuskegee Airman Charles McGee Dies at 102

McGee flew 409 fighter combat missions over 3 wars
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 17, 2022 2:07 AM CST
One of the Last Tuskegee Airmen Is Dead at 102
Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Charles McGee, a Tuskegee Airman and a decorated veteran of three wars, flies a Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet with assistance from pilot Boni Caldeira during a round trip flight from Frederick, Md., to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on. Dec. 6, 2019.   (AP Photo/David Tulis, File)

(Newser) – Charles McGee, a Tuskegee Airman who flew 409 fighter combat missions over three wars and later helped to bring attention to the Black pilots who had battled racism at home to fight for freedom abroad, died Sunday. He was 102, the AP reports. McGee died in his sleep at his home in Bethesda, Maryland, said son Ron McGee. After the US 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 told the AP in a 1995 interview. “Equality of opportunity. We knew we had the same skills, or better.” McGee graduated from flight school in June 1943 and in early 1944 joined the all-Black 332nd Fighter Group, known as the “Red Tails.” He flew 136 missions as the group accompanied bombers over Europe. More than 900 men trained at Tuskegee from 1940 to 1946. About 450 deployed overseas and 150 lost their lives in training or combat. In recent years the Tuskegee Airmen have been the subject of books, movies, and documentaries highlighting their courage in the air and the doubts they faced on the ground because of their race.

In 2007 a Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award from Congress, was issued to recognize their “unique military record that inspired revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces.” McGee remained in the Army Air Corps, later the US 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 National Aviation Hall of Fame says his 409 aerial fighter combat missions in three wars remains a record. He retired as a colonel in the Air Force in 1973, then earned a college degree in business administration and worked as a business executive. He was accorded an honorary commission promoting him to the one-star rank of brigadier general as he turned 100. (Much more about his life here.)

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