Brigadier General Charles E. McGee, one of the last surviving pilots of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, peacefully passed away in his sleep on Sunday, his family announced in a statement, per WUSA9. The veteran was 102.
McGee was born in Cleveland on December 7, 1919. He served as a pilot for the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. He was also behind the cockpit as an Air Force fighter pilot during the North Korean and Vietnam wars. McGee was a member of the renowned “Red Tails Squadron” that was tasked to protect the Eighth Air Force bombers.
And though White pilots were ultimately returned home after 50 missions during the time, McGee flew 136 missions in Nazi Europe. The deceased veteran was also deployed to Korea and Vietnam before his eventual retirement from the U.S. Air Force in 1973, WUSA9 reported. McGee flew over 400 combat missions during his years of service, and he had risen to the rank of a Colonel at the time of his retirement.
“Folks keep saying, ‘You’re a hero,’” McGee told the news outlet in 2019. “I just served the country in a time of need.”
McGee was eventually promoted to the rank of Brigadier General after President Donald Trump ratified the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020. “I hope I’m deserving,” McGee said. “It’s wonderful to be recognized for service and what it means to serve. Certainly to receive that honorary rank is very meaningful.”
McGee’s family said the veteran lived by a mantra he referred to as “The Four P’s” during a significant portion of his life. They were: perceive, prepare, perform and persevere. “McGee was a living legend known for his kind-hearted, and humble nature, who saw positivity at every turn,” his family said, adding that his mission over the last 50 years was encouraging people to take up aviation.
McGee received a Congressional Gold Medal in 2007. He was also inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2011.
“Gen. Charles McGee was the living embodiment of a man whose actions spoke louder than his words,” Josiah Bunting III, chairman of the Friends of the National World War II Memorial, said. “His military service to his country is without question, but the way he dedicated himself to helping today’s youth is where the loss will be felt the most.”
Serving at a time when the American Army was segregated, the Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American aviators in America. The 332nd Fighter Group and the 99th Pursuit Squadron were the only black groups that fought in World War II and were considered highly successful despite facing discrimination in and out of the army.
Trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama, they flew more than 15,000 individual sorties in Europe and North Africa during World War II. Their remarkable performance did not only earn them more than 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses but eventually helped encourage the integration of the U.S. armed forces, according to History.