Charles McGee, Celebrated Tuskegee Pilot, Dies at 102

Faye Higbee
charles mcgee

In 2020, on the day of Trump’s State of the Union address, Col Charles McGee was promoted to the rank of Honorary Brigadier General, and received a standing ovation when President Trump introduced him. He was a Tuskegee pilot who flew 409 aerial combat missions in three wars: WWII, Korea, Vietnam. According to his youngest daughter, he passed away on Sunday peacefully with his right “hand over his heart and was smiling serenely.”

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In 1944 after flight school at the Tuskegee Army Airfield in Alabama, he joined the “Red Tails” known as the Tuskegee Airmen. As part of the all Black 332nd Expeditionary Operations Group during WWII, he flew 136 missions over Europe. During the Korean War and Vietnam War, he flew “low-level bombing and strafing missions.” The National Aviation Hall of Fame says that his 409 combat missions remain a record.

charles mcgee
Charles McGee flew a private jet between Frederick, Md., and Dover Air Force Base in Delaware as he turned 100. Screenshot

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. Another event marked his centennial year: He flew a private jet between Frederick, Md., and Dover Air Force Base in Delaware…

In addition to encouraging young men and women to pursue careers in aviation, McGee was a source of information about the Tuskegee Airmen and offered a unique perspective on race relations of the era through the airmen’s nonprofit educational organization.

“At the time of the war, the idea of an all African American flight squadron was radical and offensive to many,” McGee wrote in an essay for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

“The prevailing opinion was that blacks did not possess the intelligence or courage to be military pilots. One general even wrote, ‘The Negro type has not the proper reflexes to make a first-rate fighter pilot.’ The Tuskegee Airmen certainly proved men like him wrong.”

Stars and Stripes

Charles McGee was also a Bronze Star recipient, and in 2007 he was part of the ceremony to award the group the Congressional Gold Medal. The Tuskegee Airmen overall shot down 251 enemy aircraft in WWII. He was known to his family as a humble, kind person. Over 900 men applied to the Red Tails group in 1944. It is estimated that only 50 or 60 of them were still living in 2021.

We dreamed of being pilots as boys but were told it was not possible. Through faith and determination we overcame enormous obstacles. This is a lesson that all young people need to hear. I am most proud of my work as a Tuskegee Airman that helped bring down racial barriers and defeat the Nazis.

Charles McGee

Dreams can come true, and he was right- that is something all young people need to hear. Rest in Peace, Sir.


Featured photo of Charles McGee at the SOTU in 2020.

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