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Brig. Gen. Charles McGee, one of last Tuskegee Airmen, dies at 102

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Charles E. McGee after a flight to celebrate his 100th birthday at the Fredrick Municipal Airport in Fredrick, Md., Dec. 6, 2019. (Staff Sgt. James Richardson/U.S. Air Force)
January 17, 2022

Brig. Gen. Charles McGee, one of the last surviving members of the historic Tuskegee Airmen, died on Sunday morning at 102 years old.

McGee died in his sleep on Sunday morning, according to a statement from his family, Reuters reported. “He had his right hand over his heart and was smiling serenely,” his youngest daughter Yvonne McGee.

McGee flew with the historically black Tuskegee Airmen in World War II and continued to serve through the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He flew a total of 409 combat missions across the three wars, including 130 during World War II alone.

McGee ultimately retired at the rank of colonel, but then-President Donald Trump promoted him to the rank of brigadier general in 2020, just weeks after his 100th birthday.

The Air Force released a video in February 2020 congratulating McGee for the promotion. The video included an interview of McGee, in which the veteran described the trials of serving his country during a period of segregation in the military.

“This was a double victory activity for black Americans, fighting against Hitler in Europe and also fighting against racism here at home,” McGee said, recalling an article by the Pittsburgh Courier that praised the service of the Tuskegee Airmen.

“Don’t let the circumstances be an excuse for not achieving,” McGee continued. “We could have easily said ‘they don’t like me, they don’t want me’ and go off into the corner with our head bowed. That’s not the American way.”

Following his military service, McGee went on to work as the director of the Kansas City airport and served as a member of the Aviation Advisory Commission.

He also gave multiple public addresses about aviation and the Tuskegee Airmen and was a consultant for the 2009 George Lucas film “Red Tails,” about the historic military unit.

“McGee was a living legend known for his kind-hearted, and humble nature, who saw positivity at every turn,” the family said in the statement. “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.”

Following his death, Vice President Kamala Harris tweeted a video of a phone call she had with McGee to wish him a happy birthday last month. “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.”

Following his death, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin 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.”

“We are sad to learn of the loss of our friend Brig. Gen. Charles McGee,” the National Air and Space Museum tweeted. “We have been lucky to know and work with General McGee as he shared with our visitors the role he played as a Tuskegee Airman, breaking racial barriers and helping to win World War II.”