The Heart-Wrenching Death Of Tuskegee Airman Charles McGee

On January 16, 2022, Charles McGee died in his sleep at the age of 102, with much of his family at his bedside (via NBC). To reach past the age of 100 is an achievement in and of itself. However, for McGee, it was far from the biggest hurdle in his life. Born in 1919, a time when Jim Crow laws were at their height, his father had just served as minister for the army in the First World War (via History Net). With the outbreak of the next global conflict, his father resumed that role while McGee himself trained to fly as one of the Tuskegee Airmen.

They were the first African American pilots to fly in the United States Army Air Corps, though in spite of their unit's existence, it wasn't until 1948 that the U.S. military began to desegregate. This meant that they and many other minorities in the military faced exceptional adversity while serving. Nevertheless, the "Red Tails," as the airmen were known due to the red paint on their planes' tails, proved to be vital in protecting American bombers over Germany (via History). McGee was among them and flew 137 missions, earning him several promotions and medals.

One of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen

Charles McGee's combat record did not end with the fall of the Axis, though. McGee not only returned to fly combat missions in the Korean War, but also during the Vietnam War (via PBS). By the end of his combat career in 1973, he had reached the impressive rank of colonel. In 2020, he was further given the rank of brigadier general by President Trump live during the State of the Union address (via Air Force Magazine). After retirement, he wrote and spoke on several occasions about his personal experiences with military aviation and civil rights (via Smithsonian).

In his post-war life, McGee also spent time as a husband and father, having married his wife Frances Nelson shortly before his deployment. According to CNN, they had three children, 10 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild — though Nelson died in 1994 before seeing all of them (via ABC 7). At the time of his death in 2022, McGee not only outlived his wife but most of his World War II comrades as well, leaving even fewer Tuskegee Airmen remaining (via The Undefeated).