McGee, Charles Edward
Pilot/PioneerEnshrined 2011 1919-Present
- Instrumental to the growth of the Tuskegee Airmen Association.
- Holds the record of 409 aerial fighter combat missions over three wars.
- Military honors include the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, Distinguished Flying Cross with Two Clusters, two Presidential Unit Citations, and many others.
Charles McGee entered this world in Cleveland, Ohio, on December 7, 1919, the second of three children born to Lewis McGee, Sr. and Ruth McGee. With Charles’ father being a minister, teacher and social worker, the McGee family moved often, living in Ohio, Florida, West Virginia, Illinois and Iowa. After graduating from Chicago’s Dusable High School in 1938, he earned money for college by working in the Civilian Conservation Corps. Attending the University of Illinois in 1939, he joined the ROTC and was a member of the Pershing Rifles. It was there that Charles met the love of his life, Frances Nelson.
With war declared after Pearl Harbor, Charles heard the army was recruiting to train colored soldiers as mechanics at nearby Chanute Field, for the expected colored soldiers’ flight program. He applied for a pilot’s slot in this experimental squadron and passed the examination. With his call to service inevitable and college completion doubtful, that fall Charles worked at a steel mill. He and Frances were married on October 17, 1942. Two days later he received his orders and soon was at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama to begin rigorous flight training with his fellow black cadets.
On June 30, 1943, Charles graduated from flight school in Class 43-F. By the beginning of 1944, Second Lieutenant McGee had joined the pioneering all-black 332nd Fighter Group, 12th Air Force – flying P-39 Airacobras from a base near Naples, Italy. By May of 1944, the 332nd was with the 15th Air Force, flying P-47 Thunderbolts – and later, P-51 Mustangs – on fighter sweeps and long-range bomber escort missions out of Ramatelli. The 332nd, also known as the “Red Tails,” soon earned the respect of their Luftwaffe counterparts and of the white bomber crews they protected. By November of 1944, with 136 missions and a Focke Wulf 190 to his credit, Charles was heading home.
He returned to Tuskegee as a twin engine instructor. Upon war’s end, the Tuskegee Army Air Field was closed, and Charles joined the 477th Composite Group at Lockbourne Air Base, near Columbus, Ohio, in 1946. After several stateside assignments, May 1950 found Charles in the Philippines at Clark Field, as Base Operations Officer.
June, 1950. Another war broke out – in Korea. Charles soon found himself back in a Mustang and in combat, with the 67th Fighter Bomber Squadron based out of Pusan. Over his tour, Charles flew 100 low level bombing and strafing missions. Returning to Clark, Charles took command of the 44th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, eagerly transitioning into the F-80 jet fighter. In 1953, Charles graduated from the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base, and later flew F-89 Scorpions with the Air Defense Command.
Charles was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1959. The McGee’s and their three children spent the next few years on assignments in Italy, North Dakota and Missouri. By 1967, another war – Vietnam – called Charles into combat. Leading the 16th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron out of Tan Son Nhut Air Base near Saigon, he flew RF-4C Phantoms on 173 more dangerous missions.
The Air Force next sent Charles to Germany, promoting him to Colonel in 1969. In June 1972 he took command of the 1840th Air Base Wing at Richards-Gebauer, near Kansas City, Missouri. On January 31, 1973, after 30 years of military service, Charles retired from the Air Force. His 409 aerial fighter combat missions over three wars is a record that still stands.
Charles’ military honors include the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, Distinguished Flying Cross with Two Clusters, two Presidential Unit Citations, and many others. Charles then went back to school, finally earning that long delayed degree. His civilian career included serving as Vice President of a real estate holding company, and Manager of the Kansas City Downtown Airport.
He was instrumental to the growth of the Tuskegee Airmen Association, and his many additional honors include the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award, the National Aeronautics Association Elder Statesman of Aviation induction, the Air Force Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award and, on March 27, 2007, as a Tuskegee Airman, the Congressional Gold Medal. Charles remains a highly sought after speaker and, with his motto of “Do while you can,” continues to inspire young and old alike.
The National Aviation Hall of Fame proudly honors Colonel Charles Edward McGee for his pioneering aviation career and exemplary service to his country.