Tuskegee Airman celebrates 102nd birthday at 12th FTW

  • Published
  • By Lori A. Bultman
  • 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

In the coming year, Joint Base San Antonio will hold numerous events to celebrate the U.S. Air Force’s 75th anniversary, and as part of the celebration, this week the 12th Flying Training Wing helped a Tuskegee Airman, retired Brig. Gen. Charles E. McGee, celebrate his 102nd birthday. 

McGee, and several members of his family, visited JBSA Dec. 6 and were treated to a heritage tour of the 99th Flying Training Squadron, where they also saw a T-1A Jayhawk aircraft on the nearby flightline with his name painted on the side.  

Lt. Col. Cory Henwood, commander of the 99th FTS, expressed his gratitude and appreciation to McGee for his service and for allowing the 99th FTS to join him in the celebration, presenting McGee with a bottle of cola to honor the tradition of shooting down an enemy aircraft. 

Following the tour, the General took questions from members of the media and from 99th Flying Training Squadron pilots, and he spoke to them about his lustrous career.    

The visiting group, which included three of McGee’s children, then visited a flight simulator facility where they participated in a training mission in a T-1A aircraft simulator. The visit concluded with lunch, the presentation of a gift, a model T-7A Red Hawk aircraft, and a celebratory serenade by squadron members as a cake was placed in front of McGee.  

The T-7 Red Hawk, the Air Forces’ newest trainer aircraft, honors the tradition of the Tuskegee Airmen and the P-51 Mustang “Red Tail” aircraft that they, including McGee, piloted during World War II.  

McGee’s military career spanned nearly three decades, and as a result of his distinguished service and continued mentorship, he was promoted to brigadier general at the age of 100. During his career, he also received the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters and a Bronze Star Medal.   

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, on Dec. 7, 1919, McGee thrived as a leader from an early age, becoming a distinguished Eagle Scout. He continued to lead throughout his military career after enlisting in the U.S. Army as a pilot Oct. 26, 1942.  

McGee earned his pilot's wings on June 30, 1943. By February 1944, he was stationed in Italy with the 301st Fighter Squadron of the 332d Fighter Group, flying his first mission on Valentine’s Day. 

During World War II, McGee flew the Bell P-39Q Airacobra, Republic P-47D Thunderbolt and North American P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft, escorting Consolidated B-24 Liberator and Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers over Germany, Austria and the Balkans.  

By the time he was promoted to captain, McGee had flown 137 combat missions. He returned to the U.S. in December 1944 and became an instructor for the North American B-25 Mitchell bombers, remaining at Tuskegee Army Air Field until 1946, when the base was closed. 

After the war, McGee was sent to Lockbourne Air Field in Columbus, Ohio, to become the base operation and training officer, then he was sent to an aircraft maintenance technical course and was assigned to an air refueling unit.  

When the Korean War began, McGee flew P-51 Mustangs again in the 67th Fighter Bomber Squadron, completing 100 missions and being promoted to the rank of major.  

He continued his service in the Department of Defense’s new aviation branch, the U.S. Air Force, where he continued to be a fighter pilot. 

During the Vietnam War, then Lt. Col. McGee flew 172 combat missions in a McDonnell RF-4 photoreconnaissance aircraft. This topped off his 30-year active service career in which he accumulated 409 fighter combat missions. 

McGee’s daughter, Yvonne McGee, was thankful to see her father revisit his military roots. 

“It is an honor for him, but I know that when he travels, he does it to represent everybody who can’t be here, and that is why he is still going at 102,” she said, noting that her father wishes to represent all Tuskegee Airmen and the history they represent. "There are so many of his comrades who are not able to do what he does, so he keeps showing up to represent them.” 

Nearly 50 years after his military retirement, McGee is still proud of his military service, and encourages today’s service members do their best to protect and defend the nation, regardless of their occupation. 

“Eighty years ago, I was in training,” he said. “At my first flight, I was hooked. I just loved flying.”  

“For the Tuskegee Airmen, the very first were mechanics, expected to fail, but they didn’t” he said. That lead to the Air Force building an airfield for pilot training, he said, adamite that this be noted in the squadron’s history.  

Col. Scott Rowe, 12th FTW commander, expressed his gratitude to McGee for visiting the wing to celebrate his birthday.  

“Hosting Brig. Gen. McGee and his family for his 102nd birthday is a great honor for the 12th Flying Training Wing,” he said. “We always talk about how important it is to remember our heritage and the trailblazers who went before us -- having him share his experiences with our pilots is truly an opportunity of a lifetime. 

“With the Air Force’s 75th Anniversary right around the corner, what better way to remember our founding than to celebrate an Airman who broke the barriers and accelerated the changes we still see today,” he said.     

The U.S. Air Force will continue to celebrate the Tuskegee Airmen and many of the service’s other incredible heroes who have contributed to securing the nation and the world during its 75th anniversary between now and Sept. 18, 2022. Look for more Air Force anniversary events service-wide, as we commemorate -- “Innovate, Accelerate, Thrive...the Air Force at 75.”