After celebrating his 100th birthday by piloting a Cirrus Vision Jet, retired U.S. Air Force Col. Charles E. McGee is set to be presented with an honorary promotion to brigadier general. The action, included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), was approved by the House on December 11 and the Senate on December 17, and will now head to President Donald Trump’s desk for signature.
McGee, who lives in Bethesda, Maryland, turned 100 on December 7 and celebrated at AOPA headquarters the day before. He served with the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II, and completed 136 combat missions. McGee flew an additional 100 combat missions in the Korean War and 173 combat missions in the Vietnam War, amassing a three-war total of 409 flight missions. McGee’s 30-year military career included numerous leadership and command capacities.
“Col. Charles McGee's service to our country is remarkable and fully merits this distinguished honor,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) in a December 10 news release. “I was proud to fight for the inclusion of this promotion to commemorate his work and his sacrifice. This progress comes just days after Col. McGee’s 100th birthday, and I could not think of a more fitting recognition from a truly grateful nation.”
Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.), a retired U.S. Army Reserve colonel, also supported the measure. “The honorary promotion of Col. Charles McGee to Brigadier General in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act was personal. The recognition of Col. McGee’s heroism is both well-deserved and long overdue.” Brown continued, “As a barrier-breaking African American pilot and commander in the Air Force, Col. McGee’s service has inspired generations of African American aviators who followed in his footsteps. In combat and his leadership and command capacities, Col. McGee always served the United States with patriotism and distinction. His legacy should make us all proud.”
McGee’s son Ron McGee, who is a professional aviator, was appreciative of his father’s recognition. “No words of gratitude will convey the heartfelt thanks for your support and persistence. Dad has devoted his life to serving the United States.”
Yvonne McGee, the patriarch’s youngest daughter, said, “Our hearts are overflowing with joy that Dad's long overdue promotion is finally coming to fruition. For a man whose entire life has been in service to God and country, attaining this, from representatives of the same institution that 78 years ago wanted to limit his participation in the American dream, is the perfect way for a grateful nation to say ' thank you.' We are so proud of our Senator Van Hollen, [whose] support and tenacity was key in making this possible and the best present ever for Dad's 100th birthday!”
McGee’s eldest daughter, Charlene McGee-Smith, authored a book about her father’s life, and said, “We are delighted that the honorary promotion is moving forward. Our father's achievements are most worthy of this recognition. His life of service is an example and inspiration to all.”
AOPA President Mark Baker acted as co-pilot on McGee’s latest flight to commemorate his 100th birthday at AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Maryland, and was enthusiastic in his support of the pending honorary promotion. “Col. McGee and his fellow Tuskegee Airmen overcame struggles many of us could never imagine. The Tuskegee Airmen played a significant role in protecting this country’s freedom against the Axis powers, while also fighting their own battle of acceptance from compatriots. It’s an honor whenever I’m in Col. McGee’s presence and this promotion is well deserved. May his legacy and the legacy of his fellow airmen live on forever and may that legacy help to inspire the next generation of pilots, especially young and minority pilots, to never give up on their dreams.”