Celebrating a 100th birthday is monumental in itself, but for retired Col. Charles E. McGee, shortly after this celebration he would reach yet another milestone in his successful career.
On Feb. 4, he found himself in the Oval Office at the White House being promoted to brigadier general by President Donald Trump.
“At first I would say ‘wow,’ but looking back, it would have been nice to have had that during active duty, but it didn’t happen that way,” McGee said. “But still, the recognition of what was accomplished, certainly, I am pleased and proud to receive that recognition and hopefully it will help me carry on as we try to motivate our youth in aviation and space career opportunities.”
McGee’s successes started early on in his career, when on June 30, 1943, he earned his pilot’s wings as one of the Tuskegee Airmen, the decorated unit of African American airmen famous for not only their combat successes, but the impact they had on the cultural shift in the military.
His military career spanned across three decades, where he flew 409 combat missions during three different wars — WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War. While serving, McGee was presented with the Distinguished Flying Cross, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Air Medal and the Presidential Unit Citation.
After he retired in 1973, McGee has continued to leave his mark in history. In 2007, he was presented the Congressional Gold Medal by former president George W. Bush, and in 2011 he was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Then in 2019, the Tuskegee Airmen’s legacy was cemented in the naming of the T-7A training aircraft, the “Red Hawk,” in a tribute to the airplane they flew.
“Charles McGee is a genuine American hero whose courage in combat helped save a nation, and whose legacy is felt to this day across the entire U.S. Air Force,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. “It was an honor to witness his promotion and to thank him yet again for paving the way for today’s Air Force. The Tuskegee Airmen continue to inspire generations of Americans.”
The evening after he was promoted, McGee attended the State of the Union as a guest and was recognized by Trump. “General McGee, our nation salutes you. Thank you, sir,” Trump said.
Trump wasn’t the only one to recognize McGee last week; on Sunday McGee, along with three other veterans, each 100 years of age, participated in the coin toss at the Super Bowl in Miami.
He has credited all these achievements to a simple formula.
“I’d like to pass on what I call my four ‘P’s’ — perceive, prepare, perform, persevere — dream your dreams but get the good education to accomplish the desires and needs of the country,” he said. “Always seek excellence and always do your best in things that you do. Finally, don’t let the negative circumstances be an excuse for not achieving.”
The writer is a staff sergeant with the secretary of Air Force public affairs