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Tuskegee Airman Charles McGee, who was born in Cleveland, dies at 102

Brigadier Gen. McGee, who most recently lived in Maryland, died peacefully in his sleep.

BETHESDA, Md. — Editor's Note: The video above is from 2019, celebrating Gen. McGee's 100th birthday. 

One of the last living Tuskegee Airmen pilots has died at the age of 102. Brigadier General Charles E. McGee, of Bethesda, died peacefully in his sleep on Jan. 16, according to a family statement. 

McGee -- born Dec. 7, 1919 in Cleveland, Ohio -- served as a Tuskegee Airmen pilot in World War II and an Air Force fighter pilot in the North Korean and Vietnam wars. He protected the Eighth Air Force bombers as part of the famous "Red Tails Squadron." Back then, white pilots were sent home after 50 missions. But McGee flew 136 missions over Nazi Europe. He then served in Korea and Vietnam, before retiring from the U.S. Air Force with the rank of Colonel in 1973. He flew more than 400 total combat missions across three wars. 

“Folks keep saying, ‘You’re a hero,’” McGee told WUSA9 in 2019. “I just served the country in a time of need.”


McGee was promoted from Colonel to Brigadier General when former President Donald Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020 into law. That same year, at the age of 100, he presented the coin at the kickoff of the Super Bowl.

"I hope I’m deserving," McGee said. "It’s wonderful to be recognized for service and what it means to serve. Certainly to receive that honorary rank is very meaningful."

According to his family, McGee followed a mantra he called "The Four P's" for most of his life: perceive, prepare, perform and persevere. 

"McGee was a living legend known for his kind-hearted, and humble nature, who saw positivity at every turn," his family said in a statement released Sunday afternoon.

The family says McGee's passion for the last 50 years has been encouraging others to pursue aviation, as well. 

"Aviation is an important technology and something we hope all youngsters get an interest in," McGee said at an event at the Frederick Municipal Airport just before his 100th birthday. "It’s so important that everything we do is an inspiration for them and moving them in the right direction."

WATCH:  Gen. Charles McGee honored at the State of the Union. 

He was a member of the Montgomery County chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, and a beloved fixture at their annual MLK Prayer Breakfast, which was scheduled to be held the day after he died.  

The general was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by former President George W. Bush in 2007 and was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2020.  

"Gen. Charles McGee was the living embodiment of a man whose actions spoke louder than his words," said Josiah Bunting III, chairman of the Friends of the National World War II Memorial. "His military service to his country is without question, but the way he dedicated himself to helping today’s youth is where the loss will be felt the most."

WATCH: McGee celebrates his 101st birthday. 

McGee is survived by three children, 10 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild. His wife, Frances Nelson, died in 1994. 

"As the nation mourns, the family asks that we remember the importance and significance of the legacy he left, all of his fellow Tuskegee Airmen, and everyone who played a role in the support and protection of American democracy," a family statement said.

WATCH: McGee promoted to Brigadier General. 


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