102-year-old Tuskegee Airman recalls love at first flight

Brig. Gen. Charles E. McGee honored by JBSA 99th Flying Training Squadron

SAN ANTONIO – Flight instructors in training at JBSA-Randolph broke into “Happy Birthday” for one of the nation’s most decorated and accomplished Tuskegee Airmen, Brig. Gen. Charles E. McGee, who is celebrating his 102nd birthday Tuesday.

McGee was honored Monday by the 99th Flying Training Squadron, the only active duty Tuskegee Squadron in the U.S. Air Force, now at JBSA Randolph.

On his tour of the squadron, the halls lined with photographs of its Tuskegee past, McGee said its history is being kept alive “not only in the pictures, but in the lives of those that are teaching those that are coming along today.”

Originally from Ohio, McGee graduated from flight training in 1943, becoming one of the U.S. Army Air Corps’ famed Tuskegee Airmen, the nation’s first African-American military aviators.

In keeping with its legacy, the T-1AJayhawks used by the 99th Flying Training Squadron have distinctive red tails like those on the planes flown by the Tuskegee Airmen.

McGee saw that in his honor, one of them was named for him.

He said the mission of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II was to protect American bombers against German fighters.

“Although we didn’t realize at the time, we set an excellent record in escort work and saving American lives,” McGee said.

Asked what advice he could share, McGee said, young people need mentors.

“So that those things that are not good for the country’s future will not be a part of their growth, their training, their thinking, their activity,” he said.

As an example, McGee said, “They called me names. They don’t like me. What if we’d not gone off and not served our country. Where would we be had that happened?”

“Don’t let anybody tell you can’t achieve that or you’re not worthy,” McGee said. “Perceive, prepare, perform, persevere.”

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About the Authors:

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.