Charles E. McGee
Charles E. McGee, one of the famed "Tuskegee Airmen," served as a fighter pilot during
World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. He achieved the highest three-war fighter mission
total of any Air Force aviator. In 1942 and 1943, McGee attended flying training at
Tuskegee Field, Alabama, and Selfridge Field, Michigan. McGee flew his first combat
mission on February 14, 1944, conducting coastal and tactical patrols over Italy. He
completed 136 combat missions flying the P-39Q Airacobra, P-47D Thunderbolt
, and P-51 Mustang, escorting B-24 Liberator and B-17 Flying
Fortress bombers over Germany, Austria, and the Balkans; and conducting
low-altitude strafing missions over enemy airfields and rail yards.
The mission on
August 23, 1944, stands out as a highlight of his World War II career. While
escorting B-17s over Czechoslovakia, he engaged a threatening formation of German fighters
and downed a Focke Wulf 190. During World War II, the Tuskegee Airmen demonstrated
exceptional tenacity and courage while fighting a war against both the Axis powers in
Europe and racism in the United States. In the face of discrimination and bias, the
Tuskegee Airmen flew 200 bomber escort missions against some of the most heavily
defended targets in the Third Reich, and they never lost a single bomber to enemy
fighters. This accomplishment provided compelling evidence leading to the integration
of all US armed forces and stands today as a convincing testament to their perseverance
and aerial prowess.
Due to racial policies that still existed after World War II, McGee
faced an uncertain future upon his return. He decided to focus on the maintenance
officer school, but in 1950, he received orders to the Philippines. With the Korean
War looming, the newly formed United States Air Force had a renewed interest in pilots
who had flown the Mustang, which had been redesignated as the F-51. After
nearly a six-year hiatus from the cockpit, McGee jumped into the F-51 and went to
Johnson Air Force Base, Japan, where he flew 100 interdiction missions. In 1967, he was
ordered to Vietnam to fly reconnaissance missions in the RF-4C. After 173 missions in
Vietnam, he returned stateside. He culminated his 30-year active duty career by taking
command of Richards-Gebaur AFB in 1972.
For his achievements in combat, McGee was
awarded the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Air Medal. With a
motto of "do while you can", McGee's post-military career includes serving as Director
of the Kansas City airport and as a member of the Aviation Advisory Commission.
For over 33 years, he has been an ambassador of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. He has
received numerous accolades including the National Aeronautical Associations "Elder
Statesman of Aviation." He continues to "do while he can" and attends events
worldwide to share his experiences and knowledge of the Tuskegee Airmen. McGee
currently resides in Bethesda, Maryland, near one of his three children.
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On August 23, 1944, Charles McGee spotted a formation of German fighters while
escorting B-17s enroute to the target. After an intense dogfight, McGee
successfully maneuvered behind the Focke Wulf 190. He fired a burst that
disabled the enemy aircraft's controls, and the aircraft crashed and exploded
on the airfield below.