On February 4, 2020, President Donald Trump presided over the promotion of former Tuskegee Airman Charles E. McGee to the rank of brigadier general. For McGee, this promotion, which came right on the tail of his 100th birthday, marks another of many incredible accomplishments throughout the past century.
McGee began his military career in 1943 as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, where McGee served alongside other African American aviators tasked with a war on two fronts: the air campaign against Nazi Germany, and the prejudice McGee and his fellow pilots worked to combat at home. The Tuskegee Airmen are remembered now as not only a group of talented military aviators, but also as a cultural force for change within the United States. McGee was highly decorated during his time in uniform, being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Air Medal and the Presidential Unit Citation, but he can’t help but note he wouldn’t have minded if his promotion came while he was still in service.
“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.”
Over the span of three decades, McGee flew more than 400 combat missions over three different wars: WWII, the Korean War and Vietnam, before retiring as a colonel in 1973. However, that wasn’t the end of McGee’s service to his nation, or his accolades. In 2007, President George H.W. Bush presented him with the Congressional Gold Medal, and then in 2011, he was enshrined forever in the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Last Sunday, he and two other 100-year-old veterans participated in the coin toss for the Super Bowl.
“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.”
McGee’s positivity and strength are on full display in a short video produced by the U.S. Air Force to pay tribute to the newly promoted general. In it, he offers some choice words of wisdom for future aviators and space pioneers. McGee also offered this valuable “formula for success” to Air Force public affairs, crediting it with his long list of accomplishments:
“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.”
Watch the video below:
Feature photo courtesy of Senior Airman Christopher Quail, U.S. Air Force