Tuskegee Airman, Air Force legend passes away at 102

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Nick Z. Erwin
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

Brig. Gen. Charles E. McGee, a Tuskegee Airman and Air Force legend, passed away at his residence in Bethesda, Md., Jan. 16, 2022. He was 102 years old.

McGee was an airpower champion, noted for his combat successes and impact on the cultural shift within the military. 

“As a Tuskegee Airman and combat aviator with 409 missions across three decades, his years in uniform were nothing shy of heroic, and his example of integrity, service, and excellence endures,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. “His legacy is foundational to our service, and a daily inspiration for me personally, and to so many other Airmen.”

McGee’s aviation career began on Oct. 26, 1942, after he enlisted in the U.S. Army as a pilot. He would fly 108 combat missions throughout Europe during World War II. During this time, he and other Tuskegee Airmen distinguished themselves through their combat proficiency and competence.

With over 6,800 flying hours, McGee’s career spanned 30 years and three different wars: World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. His decorations for outstanding service included the Distinguished Flying Cross, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Air Medal and the Presidential Unit Citation.

In 2007, the Tuskegee Airmen were presented the Congressional Gold Medal by former president George W. Bush, and in 2011, McGee was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Later in 2019, the Tuskegee Airmen were further recognized in naming the T-7A training aircraft, the “Red Hawk,” in honor of the airplane flown during World War II. For his efforts during and after his military service, McGee was promoted to the rank of brigadier general at the age of 100.

The Tuskegee Airman dedicated his time to bettering the lives of all Airmen. Often sporting his red Tuskegee Airmen jacket, McGee advocated for aviation and equal treatment of Airmen, regardless of their backgrounds. After his retirement, McGee continued to mentor young people, current and former Airmen and all others interested in aviation and science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

“Just last month, to celebrate his 102nd birthday, he spent time with Airmen, continuing to influence and teach long after retirement,” Brown said. “One of my favorite lessons, in his own words, was ‘Don’t let circumstances be an excuse to not achieve…that’s not the American way’.”

Through McGee’s actions, the Air Force has continued to break barriers and create a military branch that accelerates change at every possible instant. His legacy showcases the unending resolve and courage needed to secure and protect the nation at any time.

“Getting to know and spend time with him was an honor and a true joy, and my heart is with his family and all those affected by passing,” Brown said.