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Tuskegee Airman celebrity Charles McGee dies aged 102

WASHINGTON – Charles McGee, a Tuskegee pilot who flew 409 fighter jet combat missions in three wars and later helped attract the attention of black pilots who fought against feces Racist at home to fight for freedom abroad, died Sunday. He was 102 years old.

McGee died in his sleep at his home in Bethesda, Maryland, his son Ron McGee said.

After the United States entered World War II, McGee left the University of Illinois to join an experimental program for black soldiers seeking to train as pilots after the Army Air Self-Defense Force was forced to recruit them. African American. In October 1942, he was sent to Tuskegee Army Airfield in Alabama for flight training, according to his biography on the website of the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

“You could say that one of the things we fought for was equality,” he told The Associated Press in a 1995 interview. “Equality of opportunity. We knew we had the same skills, or better.”

McGee graduated from flight school in June 1943 and in early 1944 joined the All-Black 332 Fighter Group, known as “Red Tails”. Britain flew 136 sorties while traveling with the group with bombers across Europe.

More than 900 men trained at Tuskegee between 1940 and 1946. About 450 were deployed abroad and 150 were killed in training or in combat.

In recent years, Tuskegee pilots have been the subject of books, movies and documentaries highlighting their bravery in the air and the doubts they faced on the ground because of their race. their. In 2007, a Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’ highest civilian award, was issued in recognition of their “unique military achievement that inspired revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces.” Page”.

McGee remained in the Army Air Corps, later the United States Air Force, and served for 30 years. He performed low-altitude bombing and raiding missions during the Korean War and returned to action in the Vietnam War. The National Aviation Hall of Fame says his 409 air combat missions in three wars are still a record.

He retired as a colonel in the Air Force in 1973, then earned a college degree in business administration and worked as a corporate executive. He was awarded an honorary commission that promoted him to the one-star rank of Brigade Commander when he turned 100. Another event marked his centenary: He flew a private jet between Frederick , Maryland and Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

In 2020, McGee drew a standing ovation from members of Congress when he was introduced by President Donald Trump during his State of the Union address.

In addition to encouraging young men and women to pursue careers in aviation, McGee is a source for information on the Tuskegee Airmen and offers a unique perspective on race relations in our times through our educational institution. non-profit education of pilots.

“At a time of war, the idea of ​​an all-African-American flying squadron was radical and offensive to many,” McGee wrote in an essay for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

“The popular opinion is that black people don’t have the intelligence or the courage to be a military pilot. One general even wrote, ‘The Negro doesn’t have the right reflexes to be a first-rate fighter pilot.’ The Tuskegee pilots have certainly proven people like him wrong. ”

Charles Edward McGee was born on December 7, 1919 in Cleveland, the son of a minister, who was also a teacher and social worker, and an army chaplain. He graduated from high school in Chicago in 1938.

Survivors include daughters Charlene McGee Smith and Yvonne McGee, 10 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and one great-grandchild. His wife of more than 50 years, Frances, died in 1994.

A family statement described McGee as “a living legend known for his kind and humble nature who sees the positive at every turn.”

In tweets Sunday honoring McGee, both Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III called him an American hero.

“While I grieve his loss, I am also deeply grateful for his sacrifice, legacy and character. Rest in peace, General,” Austin wrote.

In his Smithsonian essay, McGee wrote that he was often asked why the Tuskegee Pilots were so successful in combat.

“I can say it was thanks to our courage and perseverance,” he wrote. “We used to dream of being a pilot when we were kids, but we thought we couldn’t. Through faith and determination, we overcame great obstacles. This is the lesson all young people need to hear.”

He added: “I’m most proud of my work as a Tuskegee Pilot who helped bring down racial barriers and defeat the Nazis.”

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Associated Press writer Daisy Nguyen contributed to this report.

https://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/celebrated-tuskeegee-airman-charles-mcgee-dies-102-82300940 Tuskegee Airman celebrity Charles McGee dies aged 102

Emma Bowman

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