If you watched President Trump’s State of the Union address on February 4, 2020, one of the most powerful moments was Trump’s recognition of military hero, Charles McGee. President Trump had promoted Mr. McGee from the rank of Colonel to Brigadier General earlier in the day, and having also celebrated his one-hundredth birthday, it has been quite a year for General McGee.
General McGee is a military legend. He is an amazing military hero, but more importantly, an even more amazing man. As an African American, General McGee grew up during a very difficult time in our nation’s history. He is one of a few Tuskegee Airmen still alive today. For those not familiar, the Tuskegee Airmen were assembled as the first African American Air Force (Army Air Corps at the time) fighter squadron. After World War I, Congress commissioned a report, which concluded African Americans were not intelligent enough to fly. It was a very difficult road, but once the Tuskegee Airmen (named after their training base in Tuskegee, Alabama) were formed, they left their mark on history. They became so proficient, after much kicking and screaming by Congress, the Tuskegee Airmen were finally thrust into combat against the Germans in Italy. General McGee was part of that legendary unit, flying 137 combat missions against the Germans across Europe. Later, he flew combat missions in The Korean and Vietnam Wars, totaling 409 combat missions, the highest three-war total in Air Force history.
General McGee served more than 30 years as an officer in the Air Force, holding many distinctions and commanding multiple units before finally retiring in January 1973. Throughout his career, he logged 6,308 flight hours. What I find most significant about General McGee is his positive attitude. He served in the military during a time where African Americans were not welcome or accepted. African Americans were segregated completely until July 26, 1948, when President Harry Truman abolished discrimination in the military ‘on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin.’ Even after the military was de-segregated, General McGee couldn’t find housing for his family, because no one would rent to African Americans. He has many examples of segregation, but he doesn’t dwell on any of those instances. He chooses to live his life by the Golden Rule and the Boy Scout Oath. He believes in treating all people equally, period. General McGee lives by what he calls the ‘Four P’s’: perceive, prepare, perform, and persevere.
During this very difficult time in our nation’s history, hearing General McGee’s life-story is very refreshing. I conducted this interview on August 26, 2019. It contains his story, military history, and philosophy on life. While his military stories are amazing, his positive outlook on life, despite all he has experienced in one hundred years on this earth, is a breath of fresh air. General McGee’s story is even more special to me, because my Grandpa fought on the ground in Italy as part of the 34th Infantry Division (Red Bulls), during the same time General McGee and his Tuskegee Airmen were patrolling the skies above. My grandpa told me many stories about those P-51 Mustangs saving his bacon, and in my heart, I feel as if General McGee was up there in the sky looking over him. It was an absolute honor to spend the afternoon with General McGee. He recently turned one hundred, and his mind is sharper than men half his age. He barely looks like he’s fifty. I hope you enjoy his story.
-Jeff Wells, Founder, Walk Among Heroes