Tuskegee Airman Brig. Gen. Charles McGee Dies at 102

Tuskegee Airman Brig. Gen. Charles McGee Dies at 102
Brig. Gen. Charles McGee, USAF (Ret), attends the State of the Union address Feb. 4, 2020 -- the same day the iconic Tuskegee Airman received an honorary promotion to the one-star rank from then-President Donald Trump. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Brig. Gen. Charles McGee, a military hero and one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen of World War II, died Jan. 16 in Bethesda, Md., at the age of 102.


McGee, a Life Member of MOAA, was the first African American to command a stateside Air Force wing and base. He finished his distinguished 30-year military career with 409 combat missions in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The Cleveland native earned multiple awards and honors, including the Legion of Merit (two awards), the Distinguished Flying Cross (three awards), a Bronze Star Medal, the Air Medal (26 awards), and the Presidential Unit Citation.


McGee was recovering from a brief hospital stay when he passed away at his home, according to The Washington Post.


McGee was one of the few living members of the all-African American 322nd Fighter Group, known as the “Red Tails” for the distinctive red tails painted on their aircraft during World War II. Just a few years after McGee and his airmen proved their courage and skill during missions in the European theater, then-President Harry S. Truman desegregated the military.


From 2017: Charles McGee Speaks to MOAA's Star Spangled Banner Chapter 



“We lost a legend and a patriot,” said MOAA President and CEO Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret), of McGee. “Not only was Brig. Gen. Charles McGee an outstanding aviator and excellent leader of men, but he was also a trailblazer for future generations of servicemembers looking to make their mark in the military. We owe him a debt of gratitude for all he did for our nation.”


The first African American to be appointed to the Pentagon’s top position shared similar sentiments: “Today, we lost an American hero,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III posted on Twitter. “… While I am saddened by his loss, I'm also incredibly grateful for his sacrifice, his legacy, and his character. Rest in peace, General.”


McGee retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 1973 and received an honorary promotion to brigadier general in February 2020. During an interview with MOAA in 2019, McGee said his role in each of the wars he served in was uniquely rewarding.


However, he said he was most proud of his time in World War II, including his work retrieving Americans as part of classified missions that he couldn’t share until years later.


“It was always, to me, very important to have participated in such an adventure that brought a lot of Americans back home,” McGee told MOAA.


[ABOVE AND BEYOND: Brig. Gen. Charles McGee, USAF (Ret), on his World War II Service]



Brig Gen. Charles McGee, USAF (Ret), was featured on the cover of the May 2020 issue of Military Officer magazine, which included his story among others of World War II service. 


The son of an Army chaplain, McGee attributed his successful career to adhering to the four P’s: perceive, prepare, perform, and persevere.


“Dream your dreams but get the … education to accomplish the desires and needs of the country,” he told the Air Force in an interview celebrating his 100th birthday. “Always seek excellence and always do your best in things that you do. Finally, don’t let the negative circumstances be an excuse for not achieving.”


McGee is survived by his son Ronald, his daughters Charlene McGee Smith and Yvonne McGee, 10 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren, and a great-great-grandchild. 


MOAA Knows Why You Serve

We understand the needs and concerns of military families – and we’re here to help you meet life’s challenges along the way. Join MOAA now and get the support you need.

JOIN TODAY Join a Chapter

About the Author

Kipp Hanley
Kipp Hanley

Hanley is a former staff writer at MOAA.