Charles McGee, One of the Last Surviving Members of the Tuskegee Airmen, Dead At 102

Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr. / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Brigadier General Charles McGee, one of the last surviving members of the groundbreaking Tuskegee Airmen, has passed away, according to a statement released by his family.

Charles McGe sitting at a table with copies of his book
Charles McGee attends African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space Family Day at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia on February 8, 2020. (Photo Credit: Marvin Joseph / The Washington Post / Getty Images)

McGee’s death occurred on January 16, 2022. According to his family, he died in his sleep at his home in Bethesda, Maryland. In a statement, they shared his impact on the world and the newest generation of US Air Force pilots:

“McGee was a living legend known for his kind-hearted and humble nature, who saw positivity at every turn. He spent the last half-century inspiring future generations to pursue careers in aviation, but equally important, he encouraged others to be the best they could be, to follow their dreams, and to persevere through all challenges.”

Charles McGee holding a thumbs up while in the cockpit of a Honda Jet
Charles McGee celebrates his 99th birthday by flying the Honda Jet on December 8, 2018 in Dulles, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Pete Marovich / The Washington Post / Getty Images)

McGee’s military career spanned three conflicts – World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War – and 30 years, during which he completed 409 air combat missions. He first enlisted in the US military following the country’s entry into WWII, joining an experimental program for African-American soldiers looking to be trained as pilots by the Army Air Corps.

He was sent to the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama for flight training in October 1942, graduating in June 1943. In February 1944, he was assigned to the 302nd Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group – known as the “Red Tails” – and sent to Europe. While overseas, he flew the P-47D Thunderbolt, the Bell P-39Q Airacobra, and the P-51 Mustang, and once while escorting a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress fought a formation of Luftwaffe fighters, downing a Focke-Wulf Fw190.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first Black military aviators in the US military. Between 1940 and 1946, over 900 trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field, of which 450 were deployed overseas. 150 men lost their lives during combat or while training.

Charles McGee looking up
Photo Credit: Pete Marovich / The Washington Post / Getty Images

In Korea, McGee and the 67th Fighter Bomber Squadron flew low-level bombing and strafing missions in P-51 Mustangs. While fighting in Vietnam, he flew 172 combat missions with the 16th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, 460th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing.

He retired from the Air Force in 1973, having reached the rank of colonel, after which he returned to school and earned a degree in business administration. From there, he worked as a business executive, all the while continuing to talk publicly about his service in the military and the adversity he and other African-American servicemen had to overcome.

For his efforts while with the military, McGee was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters and the Bronze Star, as well as the Congressional Gold Medal. In 2011, he was admitted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame, and in celebration of his 100th birthday in 2019, he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General.

Military official presenting Charles McGee with the Distinguished Flying Cross
Charles McGee being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in Korea in 1951. (Photo Credit: Lance Cheung / U.S. Department of Agriculture / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Many high-ranking officials took to Twitter to express their sadness over McGee’s death, including Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who tweeted:

“Today, we lost an American hero. Charles McGee, Brigadier General and one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airman, passed at the age of 102. While I am saddened by his loss, I’m also incredibly grateful for his sacrifice, his legacy, and his character. Rest in peace, General.”

Vice President Kamala Harris echoed Austin’s sentiments, writing:

Today, we lost an American hero, Brigadier General Charles McGee. A member of the Tuskegee Airmen, he completed over 400 missions during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. I had the honor of calling him last month on his 102nd birthday to thank him for his service to our nation.”

McGee is survived by his three children, 10 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild.