NASA honors Charles McGee, 100, one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen for Black History Month
Brigadier General Charles McGee, one the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen who successfully completed 409 combat missions over three decades of service, was honored by NASA for his accomplishments on Wednesday as part of its Black History Month celebrations.
McGee, who just turned 100 years old in December, served as a pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen, a historic group of African American pilots also known as the “Red Tails” during World War II, after joining the military in 1942 and receiving his pilot’s wings the year after. He also served in both the Korean and Vietnam wars. Out of the hundreds of Tuskegee Airmen who flew in combat, McGee is one of the last nine living, according to NASA.
During a ceremony honoring McGee at NASA’s Headquarters in Washington, McGee discussed his life’s journey with NASA Astronaut Alvin Drew, an African American Air Force colonel who has logged over 600 hours in space between two Space Shuttle missions in recent years.
At the start of the event, McGee was pressed about his experience participating in the military pilot training in Tuskegee, Ala., in the early 1940s during the Jim Crow era.
“What were you thinking?” Drew asked to laughs from the audience.
“Well, fortunately, I think I didn’t think about that, that much,” McGee responded, smiling. McGee added that some of his classmates familiar with the area at the time would let him and others know which places “not to go buy gas and how to act.”
However, McGee said the racism they experienced in the area didn’t deter him or his other classmates “from the training we got.”
By the time he graduated from the training program in 1943, McGee said he was “combat-ready” and, soon after, he became a member of the 302nd fighter squadron.
McGee also took questions from the audience during a brief session later in the event. There was one question fielded by the retired Tuskegee airman in particular that prompted much laughter from the crowd during the segment.
In footage of the moment, audience member Lledon Stokes, an army veteran, could be seen asking McGee, “As a millennial, I would like to know what are your recommendations for longevity?”
McGee could then be seen motioning to make a prayer-like gesture with his hands as laughter and applause erupted in the audience before the former pilot settled back in his seat.
100-year-old Brigadier General Charles McGee, one the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen, prompted laughter from the crowd after being asked about his recommendations for longevity during an @NASA ceremony honoring him earlier today pic.twitter.com/bczZHbcQDN
— Aris Folley (@ArisFolley) February 5, 2020
The ceremony honoring McGee on Wednesday comes a day after the former pilot was recognized by President Trump at his third State of the Union address on Tuesday night.
“After more than 130 combat missions in World War II, he came back to a country still struggling for Civil Rights and went on to serve America in Korea and Vietnam,” Trump said during the speech.
The president also used part of the address to point to a recent bill he signed into law, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020, which authorized the honorary promotion of McGee from Colonel to Brigadier General.
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