Highly-Decorated Tuskegee Airman and American Hero Charles McGee Dies at 102

During his career, not only did Charles Edward McGee break boundaries and set records, but he did it while fighting to be seen as an equal.

Charles McGee, a 102-year-old Tuskegee airman, died Sunday at his Maryland home.

During his career, he flew 409 fighter combat missions during World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, and later helped bring attention to the Black pilots who defended America and still had to fight racism in their native country. 

Charles Edward McGee was born December 7, 1919, in Cleveland, Ohio, and graduated high school in 1938.

In October 1942, he left his post as a student at the University of Illinois and went to the Tuskegee Army Airfield in Alabama for flight training.

In a 1995 interview, he said he and his fellow Black airmen knew they were fighting just to be seen as equals to their white counterparts. “Equality of opportunity,” he said. “We knew we had the same skills, or better.”

In June 1943 and early 1944, McGee joined the all-Black 332nd fighter group, The Red Tails. He flew 136 missions as the group accompanied bombers over Europe.

Over 900 men trained at Tuskegee from 1940 to 1946. About 450 were deployed overseas, and 150 lost their lives in training or combat.

McGee stayed in the Army Air Corps, later the U.S. Air Force, and he served for 30 years. 

The National Aviation Hall of Fame says his 409 aerial fighter combat missions in three wars is still a record.

He retired as a colonel in the Air Force in 1973 before earning a college degree in business administration and working as an executive.

In 2007 he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

For his 100th birthday, McGee was granted an honorary commission and was promoted to the one-star rank of brigadier general. And over the holidays, Vice President Kamala Harris sent Mr. McGee a special birthday wish.

Charles McGee was 102 years old.

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