January 18, 2022

Profiles of Valor: Charles McGee, Tuskegee Airman, Thank You

“He had his right hand over his heart and was smiling serenely.”

The oldest of the celebrated Tuskegee Airmen, Brig. Gen. Charles Edward McGee, died this week at age 102. The veteran fighter pilot was, along with his fellow Tuskegee combat pilots, awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush in 2006 to, in part, recognize their “unique military record that inspired revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces.”

The son of an Ohio minister, his mother died after the birth of his sister, bringing added hardship on his family during the Depression era. But McGee persevered. He was a Boy Scout, embracing the “Be Prepared!” motto, and became an Eagle Scout in 1940. He was an engineering student at the University of Illinois when he left college determined to serve our nation.

A tribute to McGee on the Tuskegee Airmen website includes his remarkable bio, beginning with his enlistment in October of 1942. Eight months later, he earned his wings at Tuskegee Army Air Field, and in February of 1944 was flying combat missions over Europe with the 302nd Fighter Squadron of the 332d Fighter Group.

McGee flew 137 combat missions in several aircraft — including the venerable P-47D and the feared P-51 Mustang — escorting B-24 Liberator and B-17 Flying Fortress bombers.

After Returning home, he became an instructor pilot, and would later fly 100 combat missions in Korea and 172 missions in Vietnam in the RF-4 Phantom. When he ended his active-duty military career in 1973, he had accumulated 409 combat missions, the record for most missions flown by any pilot who served in three wars, and he had logged 6,308 flying hours.

I was blessed to meet this incredibly humble warrior a decade ago, along with a few of his fellow airmen. He was among a special class of his Greatest Generation and though a quiet man, no question there was a well of courage and perseverance behind his friendly smile.

Of his World War II service, McGee observed: “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.” The Tuskegee Airmen, he noted, “proved wrong those that believed Blacks were not able to master sophisticated equipment, that Blacks lacked courage, or that Blacks did not have the wherewithal to fight a determined enemy.” He concluded, “It was the Tuskegee Airmen that ended up with a stellar WWII aviation war record and thereby edged the military toward integration and America away from segregation.”

In typical humility, he said: “I don’t see myself as a hero. I see myself as one little American that did accomplish something that was helpful.” His would frequently reference his mantra, “The Four Ps,” which stood for “Perceive, Prepare, Perform, and Persevere.” He wore that mantra well.

On his 100th birthday, he was Donald Trump’s guest of honor at the 2020 State of the Union, where he received a resounding bipartisan standing ovation. Earlier that day, President Trump had promoted Charles McGee to Brigadier General.

Brig. Gen. McGee is survived by his daughters Charlene McGee Smith and Yvonne McGee, his son Ronald McGee, 10 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren, and a great-great grandchild. His wife, Frances, preceded him to heaven in 1994. Yvonne wrote of his passing, “He had his right hand over his heart and was smiling serenely.”

Blue skies and tailwinds Charles McGee. God bless you, sir, and your family in your absence.

Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776

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