Charles McGee

Charles McGee was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on December 7, 1919. His parents were Lewis Allen and Ruth Elizabeth McGee. His father had served in World War I as an Army Chaplain, a role he would later pick back up during the Battle of the Bulge. Lewis Allen was also an African Methodist Episcopal minister and an activist during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ’60s. Charles’ grandfather had formerly been enslaved.[1]

As a child, Charles was a member of the Boy Scouts of America and earned the Eagle Scout Award on August 9, 1940. He would go on to serve in district and regional positions with the Boy Scouts.[2]

In April of 1942, Charles met Francis Nelson. They were married at her home by his father on October 17, 1942. Charles was sworn in as an aviation cadet two days after their wedding.

Charles enlisted in the United States Army on October 26, 1942. On June 30, 1943, he became part of the Tuskegee airmen when he graduated from Class 43-F.[3]

McGee was stationed in Italy with the 302nd Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group by February 1944. He flew his very first mission on Valentine’s Day of that year.[4] McGee flew a variety of planes while escorting bombers over Germany, Austria, and the Balkans. During these missions, he sometimes engaged in low-level strafing attacks. On August 23, 1944, he came in contact with a formation of Luftwaffe fighters and successfully shot down one of them.[5]

McGee flew a total of one hundred and thirty-seven combat missions and returned to the United States on December 1, 1944. From there, he became an instructor for the North American B-25 Mitchell bombers flown by the 477 bomb group of the Tuskegee airmen. McGee remained at Tuskegee Army airfield until the base was closed in 1946.[6]

When World War II ended, McGee remained in the Air Force. He served as a fighter pilot and a training officer. During the Korean War, he flew P-51 Mustangs in the 67th Fighter Bomber Squadron. He completed one hundred missions and was promoted to major.[7]

During the Vietnam War, the now Lieutenant Colonel McGee flew one hundred and seventy-two combat missions. During his South East Asia tour, he served as a Squadron Commander of the 16th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron of the 460th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing. After the war, he continued his service in the Air Force and was appointed to stations in Italy and West Germany before retiring on January 31, 1973, with the rank of Colonel.[8]

Charles McGee served in the United States Air Force for 30 years. He fought in three wars with a total of 409 combat missions. He ended his career with six thousand three hundred and eight flying hours.[9]

After retiring from the military, McGee completed his college degree at Columbia University at fifty-eight years old in 1978. He served as the Director of the Kansas City airport and a member of the Aviation Advisory Commission. He was also an ambassador of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., also known as the Tuskegee Airmen Association, which was established in 1972. He served as president of the association from 1983 to 1985. He also participated in the Air Force Association.[10]

In 2018, McGee celebrated his ninety-ninth birthday. For his birthday, a businessman and former Air Force pilot named Glenn Gonzalez took him for a flight in a HondaJet and allowed him to take the airplane’s controls. It was his first time flying a plane in thirty-seven years.[11] In December 2019, for his one-hundredth birthday, he flew with a co-pilot to Dover Air Force Base, where the base commander and many airmen welcomed him.[12]

On February 2, 2020, McGee presented the coin for the coin flip at super bowl LIV along with three other World War II veterans. Veterans. Days later, he was promoted to Brigadier General by the President of the United States.

Charles McGee passed away in his sleep on January 16, 2022, at one hundred and two. He was buried at Arlington Cemetery on June 17, 2022.

[1] Dr. Charlene E. McGee Smith, Tuskegee Airman, Biography of Charles E. McGee: Air Force Fighter Combat Record Holder (Boston, MA: Branden Publishing, 1999), 12-14.
[2] Michael Maw, “Tuskeegee Airman Presented Distinguished Eagle Scout Award,” Boy Scouts of America, August 1, 2010.
[3] Charles E. Francis and Caso Adolph, The Tuskegee Airmen: The Men Who Changed a Nation (Boston: Branden Books, 1997), 323.
[4] Charles E. Francis and Caso Adolph, The Tuskegee Airmen: The Men Who Changed a Nation, 323.
[5] Daniel L. Haulman, “Misconceptions About the Tuskegee Airmen,” Air Force Historical Research Agency, September 2, 2016.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Nick Shepherd, “Day before Turning 102, Tuskegee Airman Gets Red Carpet at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph,” San Antonio Express-News, December 6, 2021.
[8] Charlie Cooper, Ann Cooper, and Roy La Grone, Tuskegee’s Heroes (St. Paul, Minn.: Motorbooks International Publishing Company, 1996), 116.
[9] Charles E. Francis and Caso Adolph, The Tuskegee Airmen: The Men Who Changed a Nation, 324.
[10] Jon Guttman, “Tuskegee Airman Charles McGee: ‘Do While You Can,’” HistoryNet, March 1999.
[11] Pia Bergqvist, “Tuskegee Airman, Col. Charles McGee, Celebrates 99th Birthday in the Air,” Flying, December 13, 2018.
[12] Jill Tallman, “Tuskegee Airman Celebrates 100th By Flying Cirrus Vision Jet,” AOPA, December 6, 2019.

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