Charles McGee (pilot)

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Charles E. McGee
20140327-OASCR-LSC-0021 (13473191754).jpg
Born (1919-12-07) December 7, 1919 (age 99)
Cleveland, Ohio
AllegianceFlag of the United States.svg  United States of America
Service/branch US Army Air Corps Hap Arnold Wings.svg United States Army Air Forces
Years of service1942-1973
Rank US-O6 insignia.svg Colonel
Unit 332nd Fighter Group
(The Tuskegee Airmen)
Battles/wars World War II
Korean War
Vietnam War
Awards Legion of Merit ribbon.svg Legion of Merit (2)
Distinguished Flying Cross ribbon.svg Distinguished Flying Cross (3)
Bronze Star ribbon.svg Bronze Star
Air Medal ribbon.svg Air Medal (25)

Charles E. McGee (born December 7, 1919) is a retired African-American fighter pilot who was one of the Tuskegee Airmen and a career officer in the United States Air Force for 30 years who flew a total of 409 combat missions in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Fighter pilot Military combat aviator

A fighter pilot is a military aviator trained to engage in air-to-air combat while in the cockpit of a fighter aircraft. Fighter pilots undergo specialized training in aerial warfare and dogfighting. A fighter pilot with at least five air-to-air kills becomes known as an ace.

The Tuskegee Airmen is the popular name of a group of African-American military pilots who fought in World War II. They formed the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces. The name also applies to the navigators, bombardiers, mechanics, instructors, crew chiefs, nurses, cooks and other support personnel.

United States Air Force Air and space warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Air Force (USAF) is the aerial and space warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is one of the five branches of the United States Armed Forces, and one of the seven American uniformed services. Initially formed as a part of the United States Army on 1 August 1907, the USAF was established as a separate branch of the U.S. Armed Forces on 18 September 1947 with the passing of the National Security Act of 1947. It is the youngest branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the fourth in order of precedence. The USAF is the largest and most technologically advanced air force in the world. The Air Force articulates its core missions as air and space superiority, global integrated intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, rapid global mobility, global strike, and command and control.


Early years

McGee was born in Cleveland, Ohio on December 7, 1919, to Lewis Allen and Ruth Elizabeth Lewis McGee who died shortly after the birth of his sister. His father was, at times, a teacher, social worker and Methodist minister, jobs that led to frequent moves. [1]

As a youth, McGee was a member of the Boy Scouts of America and earned the Eagle Scout award on August 9, 1940. He later served in district and regional positions in the BSA. At the 2010 National Scout Jamboree, he was recognized with the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award. [2]

Boy Scouts of America Scouting organization in the United States

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is one of the largest Scouting organizations and youth organizations in the United States, with about 2.4 million youth participants and about one million adult volunteers. The BSA was founded in 1910, and since then, about 110 million Americans have been participants in BSA programs at some time. The BSA is part of the international Scout Movement and became a founding member organization of the World Organization of the Scout Movement in 1922.

Eagle Scout (Boy Scouts of America) Boy Scoutings highest award

Eagle Scout is the highest achievement or rank attainable in the Scouts BSA program of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). The designation "Eagle Scout" was founded over one hundred years ago. Only four percent of Boy Scouts are granted this rank after a lengthy review process. The requirements necessary to achieve this rank take years to fulfill. Since its founding, the Eagle Scout rank has been earned by almost 2.5 million youth.

2010 National Scout Jamboree

The 2010 National Scout Jamboree was the 17th national Scout jamboree of the Boy Scouts of America and was held from July 26 to August 4, 2010 at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia. The 2010 National Scout Jamboree celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America and was the last jamboree held at Fort A.P. Hill. With more than 50,000 in attendance, the 2010 National Scout Jamboree was the largest overall since 1973, and the largest at a single location since 1964. All subsequent jamborees have been held permanently at The Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve, the Boy Scouts of America's fourth High Adventure base. This was also the first jamboree to include Venturing programs.

McGee's P-51B 42-103968, nicknamed "Kitten" after his wife. "Kitten".jpg
McGee's P-51B 42-103968, nicknamed "Kitten" after his wife.

World War II

In March 1942, McGee was a sophomore at the University of Illinois studying engineering. While at the University of Illinois he was a member of the National Society of Pershing Rifles. He also became a member of the Tau chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. After enlisting in the US Army on October 26, 1942, he became a part of the Tuskegee Airmen having earned his pilot's wings, and graduating from Class 43-F on June 30, 1943. [3]

Pershing Rifles

The Pershing Rifles is a military-oriented fraternal organization for college-level students founded in 1894 as a drill unit at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It is the oldest continuously operating US college organization dedicated to military drill. Originally named Varsity Rifles, members renamed the organization in honor of their mentor and patron, Lieutenant John J. Pershing, upon his departure from the university in 1895.

Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. (ΑΦΑ) is the first African-American, intercollegiate Greek-lettered fraternity. It was initially a literary and social studies club organized in the 1905–1906 school year at Cornell University but later evolved into a fraternity with a founding date of December 4, 1906, at Cornell. It employs an icon from Ancient Egypt, the Great Sphinx of Giza, as its symbol. Its aims are "Manly Deeds, Scholarship, and Love For All Mankind," and its motto is "First of All, Servants of All, We Shall Transcend All." Its archives are preserved at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center.

United States Aviator Badge military decoration

A United States Aviator Badge refers to three types of aviation badges issued by the United States Armed Forces, those being for Air Force, Army, and Naval aviation.

By February 1944, McGee was stationed in Italy with the 302nd Fighter Squadron of the 332d Fighter Group, flying his first mission on February 14. [3] [4] 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. During missions, he also engaged in low level attacks over enemy airfields and rail yards. [5]

Bell P-39 Airacobra aircraft

The Bell P-39 Airacobra was one of the principal American fighter aircraft in service when the United States entered World War II. The P-39 was used by the Soviet Air Force, and enabled individual Soviet pilots to collect the highest number of kills attributed to any U.S. fighter type flown by any pilot in any conflict. Other major users of the type included the Free French, the Royal Air Force, the United States Army Air Forces, and the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force.

Republic P-47 Thunderbolt family of fighter aircraft

The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was a World War II era fighter aircraft produced by the United States from 1941 through 1945. Its primary armament was eight .50-caliber machine guns and in the fighter-bomber ground-attack role it could carry five-inch rockets or a bomb load of 2,500 pounds (1,103 kg). When fully loaded the P-47 weighed up to eight tons (tonnes) making it one of the heaviest fighters of the war. The P-47 was designed around the powerful Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engine which was also used by two U.S. Navy/U.S. Marine Corps fighters, the Grumman F6F Hellcat and the Vought F4U Corsair. The Thunderbolt was effective as a short-to-medium range escort fighter in high-altitude air-to-air combat and ground attack in both the World War II European and Pacific theaters.

North American P-51 Mustang Fighter aircraft

The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang is an American long-range, single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber used during World War II and the Korean War, among other conflicts. The Mustang was designed in 1940 by North American Aviation (NAA) in response to a requirement of the British Purchasing Commission. The Purchasing Commission approached North American Aviation to build Curtiss P-40 fighters under license for the Royal Air Force (RAF). Rather than build an old design from another company, North American Aviation proposed the design and production of a more modern fighter. The prototype NA-73X airframe was rolled out on 9 September 1940, 102 days after the contract was signed, and first flew on 26 October.

On August 23, 1944, while escorting B-17s over Czechoslovakia, McGee engaged a formation of Luftwaffe fighters and downed a Focke-Wulf Fw 190. [6]

<i>Luftwaffe</i> Aerial warfare branch of the German military forces during World War II

The Luftwaffe was the aerial warfare branch of the combined German Wehrmacht military forces during World War II. Germany's military air arms during World War I, the Luftstreitkräfte of the Army and the Marine-Fliegerabteilung of the Navy, had been disbanded in May 1920 as a result of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles which stated that Germany was forbidden to have any air force.

Focke-Wulf Fw 190 airplane

The Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Würger is a German single-seat, single-engine fighter aircraft designed by Kurt Tank in the late 1930s and widely used during World War II. Along with its well-known counterpart, the Messerschmitt Bf 109, the Fw 190 became the backbone of the Luftwaffe's Jagdwaffe. The twin-row BMW 801 radial engine that powered most operational versions enabled the Fw 190 to lift larger loads than the Bf 109, allowing its use as a day fighter, fighter-bomber, ground-attack aircraft and, to a lesser degree, night fighter.

Promoted to Captain, McGee had flown a total of 137 combat missions, and had returned to the United States on December 1, 1944, to become an instructor on the North American B-25 Mitchell bombers that the 477th Bomb Group (Medium), another unit of the Tuskegee Airmen (based at Godman AAF, in Kentucky, and later at Freeman AAF, in Indiana), were working up. He remained at Tuskegee Army Air Field until 1946, when the base was closed. [3]

Lt. Tom Coney (left) flew as the backseater on the last mission of the 16th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron commander, Lt. Col. Charles McGee in Vietnam Charles McGee in Vietnam.jpg
Lt. Tom Coney (left) flew as the backseater on the last mission of the 16th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron commander, Lt. Col. Charles McGee in Vietnam


After World War II, McGee was sent to Lockbourne Army Air Field (now Rickenbacker ANGB, Columbus, Ohio) to become the base operations and training officer, later in 1948, being posted to an Aircraft Maintenance Technical Course and was assigned to an air refueling unit. When the Korean War broke out, he flew P-51 Mustangs again in the 67th Fighter Bomber Squadron, completing 100 missions, and was promoted to major. Continuing his service with the United States Air Force as it was reconstituted, McGee continued to serve as a fighter pilot, flying Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star and Northrop F-89 Scorpion aircraft. [7]

During the Vietnam war, as a Lt. Colonel, McGee flew 172 combat missions in a McDonnell RF-4 photo-reconnaissance aircraft. During his Southeast Asia combat tour, then-LT COL McGee served as the Squadron Commander of the 16th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (TRS), of the 460th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, of which was based at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, in South Vietnam. The 16th TRS flew the RF-4C "photo-recce" Phantom II jet aircraft.

In a 30-year active service career, he achieved a three-war fighter mission total of 409 combat missions, one of the highest by any Air Force fighter pilot. [6]

After a series of other appointments both in the United States as well as in Italy and Germany, and promotion to Colonel, McGee retired on January 31, 1973. [8] He ended his military career with 6,308 flying hours. [9]

Later years

Official USAF portrait of Colonel Charles E. McGee, circa 2012 Charles McGee.jpg
Official USAF portrait of Colonel Charles E. McGee, circa 2012

After his military service, McGee held many prestigious functional and honorary positions around the field of aviation. In 1978, at the age of 58, he completed the college degree at Columbia College in Kansas City, over thirty years after his initial enrollment at the University of Illinois. Though interrupted by World War II, attaining a college degree had been a lifelong goal. [10]

McGee served as the Director of the Kansas City airport and as a member of the Aviation Advisory Commission. For over 30 years, he has been an ambassador of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., giving numerous public addresses and has received accolades including the National Aeronautical Associations "Elder Statesman of Aviation." McGee served as National President of the Association from 1983 to 1985, and is currently serving as its president. [6]

In 2005, McGee intended to be part of a group of former Tuskegee Airmen, who flew to Balad, Iraq, to speak to active duty airmen serving in the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, the current incarnation of the 332nd Fighter Group. [11] Unfortunately, McGee was hospitalized prior to the trip and was unable to go.


McGee was recognized for his combat and military service with a number of awards including: Distinguished Flying Cross with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Legion of Merit with one Oak Leaf Cluster, Bronze Star, Air Medal with 25 Oak Leaf Clusters, Army Commendation Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, Korean Presidential Unit Citation, Hellenic Republic World War II Commemorative Medal along with related campaign and service ribbons.

On March 29, 2007 at a ceremony inside the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, President George W. Bush and the U.S. Congress collectively, not individually, awarded the Congressional Gold to McGee and all other surviving and deceased Tuskegee Airmen. The Congressional Gold Medal, is the nation's highest civilian award. [9]

In 2011, McGee was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio. He also served as a consultant to the 2012 George Lucas film, Red Tails . [12]

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  1. Smith and McGee 199. pp. 12–14.
  2. Maw, Michael. "Tuskeegee Airman Presented Distinguished Eagle Scout Award: 2010 National Scout Jamboree." Boy Scouts of America. Retrieved: January 23, 2011.
  3. 1 2 3 Francis and Caso 1997, p. 323.
  4. Sherman, Stephen. "The Tuskegee Airmen: First Group of African-American Fighter Pilots in WW2.", June 29, 2011. Retrieved: January 2, 2015.
  5. Tillman 2012, p. 28.
  6. 1 2 3 "Misconceptions About the Tuskegee Airmen." Air Force Historical Research Agency. Retrieved: February 16, 2018.
  7. Ray, Mark. "National Treasure: Decorated Col. Charles McGee Continues to Impact America's Youth." Eagle Scout Magazine, Winter 2010, pp. 5–7.
  8. Cooper et al. 1996, p. 116.
  9. 1 2 Francis and Caso 1997, p. 324.
  10. "Flying high: interview with Col. Charles McGee." Archived January 3, 2015, at the Wayback Machine .Columbia College Spotlight, July 2008. Retrieved: August 14, 2012.
  11. "Tuskegee Airmen suit up, head to Iraq." USA Today, October 22, 2005.
  12. "Columbia College alumnus Col. Charles McGee consults on George Lucas movie." Archived January 3, 2015, at the Wayback Machine .Columbia College Connections. Retrieved: August 14, 2012.


  • Cooper, Charlie, Ann Cooper and Roy La Grone. Tuskegee's Heroes. St. Paul: Minnesota: Motorbooks International Publishing Company, 1996. ISBN   0-7603-0282-0.
  • Francis, Charles E. and Adolph Caso. The Tuskegee Airmen: The Men Who Changed a Nation. Boston: Branden Books, 1997. ISBN   0-8283-2029-2.
  • Smith, Charlene E. Mcgee and Charlene E. McGee. Tuskegee Airman: The Biography of Charles E. McGee, Air Force Fighter Combat Record Holder. Boston, Massachusetts: Branden Publishing, 1999. ISBN   978-0-8283-2186-0.
  • Tillman, Barrett. "Tales of the Red Tails; Inside the Tuskegee Legend: The men, the machines, the missions." Flight Journal, February 2012.