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Eugene Jacques Bullard, a former infantryman of the French Foreign Legion, set a precedent when he obtained his flying certificate on May 5, 1917, for it qualified him as the first black airman in American history. Significantly, however, the volunteer from Columbus, Georgia, had earned his flying status from the French Air Service, which he served as a fighter pilot in Escadrilles N.93 and Spa.85 from August 27 to November 11, 1917. Bullard’s native United States would not allow black airmen to fight for their country until 1943, when the first of a contingent trained at Tuskegee, Alabama, were formed as the 99th Fighter Squadron and shipped out to North Africa. That unit and the 332nd Fighter Group that followed would prove their worth in the last two years of World War II.

Besides establishing an outstanding record for successfully defending U.S. bombers against enemy fighters, several of the Tuskegee Airmen went on to distinguished postwar careers in the U.S. Air Force. One of them was Colonel Charles Edward McGee, who shared highlights of his long career with Aviation History senior editor Jon Guttman.

Aviation History: Could you tell us something of your childhood and education?

McGee: I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on December 7, 1919. My mother passed away at my sister’s birth, when I was little over a year old. We spent time in Cleveland and with grandparents who were in Morgantown and Charleston, West Virginia. When I was in third grade, my father was teaching at Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Florida. We spent a year there, then back to Cleveland until 1929, when he moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he was doing social work.

AH: Your father seems to have been a fairly prominent citizen.

McGee: Yes. In addition, he was an African Methodist Episcopal Church minister. We never had a lot, but I never remember being hungry or not being clean. I don’t have any recollections of specific actions of bigotry, except that schools were segregated, and when we were in Florida, we lived in a small house that was out on the edge of town. Also, because of the level of schooling for blacks in the South, when we returned to Cleveland, I had to repeat third grade. I became a Boy Scout in Illinois, and when my father’s ministry took him to Keokuk, Iowa, in the mid-1930s, I spent my second through senior years of high school there. In the fall of my senior year, he returned to south Chicago and I graduated from Du Sable High School in 1938. My family didn’t have the money to send me to college then, so I worked for a year with the Civilian Conservation Corps in northern Illinois, where I learned engineering and contour farming. I was then able to attend the University of Illinois in 1940. I took engineering and was also in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program and a member of the Pershing Rifles.

AH: What were your feelings when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor–on your birthday–brought the United States into the war?

McGee: My father was preaching in a church in Gary, Indiana, in 1941, and I had taken a summer job in the steel mill there. I was also in the Coleridge Taylor Glee Club. We were driving to sing at a church in south Chicago at 4 that Sunday afternoon when we heard the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. We went on with the show, but I knew that one way or another we were going to be involved in the war.

AH: When did you first become interested in flying?

McGee: I don’t recall even seeing an airplane when I was young. It was about the time I was in college that the Army was beginning to recruit nonflying personnel—communications, engineering, armament and mechanics—for a one-squadron black experiment at Chanute Field. Word of that was spreading through the black community. Well, I already had a draft card, so I filled in that pilot’s application. I was sent over to a couple of places in Indiana to take the examination, and when I passed that, in April 1942, I had to take a physical. I’d also been going with a girl from Champaign, Illinois, Frances E. Nelson, and that summer we became engaged. In my expectation of the call to arms, I did not go back to school in September—I continued working. Frances and I were married on Saturday, October 17, and Monday morning’s mail had that letter I knew was going to come. On October 27, I was sworn into the enlisted reserve, and a few weeks later, I got the call to go to Tuskegee.

AH: What were some of your first impressions of Alabama?

McGee: The trip down was my first real experience of the South. As the train left southern Illinois, you had to change your location in the car. We knew there were certain barber shops or restaurants to go to in Chicago, but you could feel the change in atmosphere and approach as you entered the Deep South—you knew that whatever happened, the law was not going to uphold whatever your position was. When you were a black man from the North, you especially had to be careful what you said and did. You learned to be extra careful when stopping to fill up your car, and even avoid some filling stations. To a degree, the southern blacks were concerned about how a northern Negro was going to act, and a lot of conversations dealt with what you needed to know and where to go to keep out of trouble. One of my classmates happened to be from a well-to-do family who owned a drug store in Montgomery, Alabama, and he helped steer me into the black community, because you didn’t go into the downtown area very much.

AH: Why did the Army choose that location?

McGee: In those days, there was a great fear around the country that when you get large groups of blacks together, there’s got to be trouble. There were places in the North, like Colorado, California and Illinois, that were turned down for the location. On the other hand, the Tuskegee Institute had already had a successful civilian pilot training program, so when the Army began its 99th Squadron experiment, Tuskegee, with flight instructors who began flying in the 1930s, got the contract.

AH: What was the Tuskegee training facility like?

McGee: By the time I got to Tuskegee in the fall of 1942, the airfield had been completed, although they had been training on it even while it was under construction. The 99th had completed its 33-pilot cadre by the time I got there. At that time, too, Colonel Noel F. Parrish was the white commander. The previous commander, Colonel Frederick Von Kimble, was not very supportive of the program, but he was relieved and replaced by Parrish, who had been directing operations. He believed in the program and the people.

AH: How did your training go?

McGee: I entered preflight training as part of Class 43-G, but I was one of several who skipped upper preflight, perhaps because of my college studies, and ended up graduating in Class 43-F. Primary training was at Moton Field, a grass strip just outside the city of Tuskegee, in the Stearman PT-17. We then went on the Army airfield, which was where our white instructors were. We did basic training in the Vultee BT-13A and advanced training in the North American AT-6. My wife came down and worked as a secretary for a Dr. Kenny in the Tuskegee Institute hospital while I was going through training, but I usually only saw her on Sunday afternoons.

AH: How did you do in training?

McGee: I remember having a queasy stomach in the first few flights and talking to the flight surgeon, who just said, ‘Quit eating fried foods for breakfast.’ I did, and I never had another problem. My first check was on February 11, 1943, and the lieutenant said it was unsatisfactory. I had two more flights with an instructor, then tried again on February 14 and passed the check. We used Eglin Army Air Field in Florida for gunnery training. I finished my last flying in the AT-6 on June 25, graduated on June 30, and on July 6 I had my first Curtiss P-40 ride. I also took blind flying in the AT-6, to improve my instrument proficiency. I qualified as expert in gunnery but not nearly as well with handguns.

Tuskegee students pore over one of the school's Curtiss P-40 fighters.

AH: Where did you go from Tuskegee?

McGee: I left Tuskegee in August for squadron and group formation flying and aerobatics at Selfridge Field, Michigan, where the 100th, 301st and 302nd squadrons of the 332nd Fighter Group were being formed. We were fully combat ready in the P-40L and P-40N by October-—and that’s when the decision was made that the group was going to fly the Bell P-39Q. It had the engine in the back and had less horsepower than the P-40, but we young pilots just used to say, ‘If the crew chief can start it, then I can fly it.’ We trained on P-39s through November, and in early December we left Selfridge Field by train under classified orders, arriving at Newport News, Virginia. We left Newport News on a big convoy that zigzagged across the Atlantic and into the Mediterranean. My ship, with the 302nd Squadron, went to Taranto, Italy, then we trucked over to the Naples area, where we began flying from Montecorvino.

AH: When did you begin combat flying?

McGee: We began operations on February 14, 1944, patrolling Naples Harbor to the Isle of Capri, and we also did coastal patrol. My first patrol was on February 28. We moved up to Capodichino on March 4, and did the rest of our tactical patrolling from there. The P-39Q was too slow and essentially a low-altitude aircraft–we flew at 10,000 to 15,000 feet, and by the time we reached even that altitude to intercept intruders, they were usually back in Germany. It was frustrating. Meanwhile, the men of the 99th were flying their P-40s with the 79th Fighter Group and shot down several aircraft over Anzio, earning the right to be called fighter pilots.

AH: When did that situation change for you?

McGee: In May they decided we were going to go to the Fifteenth Air Force. As the Allies advanced north, the bombers came up from Africa to bases in Italy, but they were getting their tails shot off over targets like Ploesti, so four single-engine fighter groups were picked for the escort. There were the candy-striped 31st, the yellow-tailed 52nd, the ‘checker-tail clan’ of the 325th and the red-tailed 332nd.

AH: How exactly did the 332nd choose red?

McGee: As I understand it, red paint was what was readily available. I think on the first couple of planes they just painted the rudder, but one of the pilots in the 332nd said, ‘That’s not enough.’ As it turned out, the gunners on the Boeing B-17s and Consolidated B-24s loved it because they could easily tell who was friendly at high altitude over the target area.

AH: I notice that May 5 in your flight log has a star beside it.

McGee: That was the day I first flew the Republic P-47D Thunderbolt. An even bigger day was May 23, when the group moved to Ramatelli on the Adriatic side and we began long-range escort flights. They took a farmer’s field, set up headquarters in the farmhouse, laid down pierced-steel planking, set up a couple of squadrons on one side of the field with their tents, and one on the other. P-47D No. 280 was assigned me for most of my flights at that time. It was just after that time that the 99th was assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group, so all four of the black squadrons were together.

AH: I understand that the 99th was not happy with that?

McGee: Well, you see, they had been in combat about a year, and we had only been there five months. They also felt that they had achieved a certain degree of integration by flying with the 33rd and 79th groups. Even though the 33rd’s commander, Colonel William Momyer, didn’t like them and his reports were all mediocre, the 79th’s Colonel Earl E. Bates saw them as more pilots for his group and let them operate alongside the rest of his squadrons. The 332nd Group’s commander, Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., had commanded the 99th, and they were pleased to be serving under him again, but there was a little resentment among their more experienced pilots over the fact that the other squadron commanders and group staff had already been picked. But B.O. [Davis] was very strong, sincere and severe–he laid down the law and things moved along.

AH: When did you fly your first escort mission into Germany?

McGee: That was a mission to Munich on June 13, and my feeling was, ‘We’re finally doing the job we came to do.’ We were still flying the P-47, and for such long-range penetration missions, we’d usually have a group carry the bombers out and another group would take them back. The P-47 was fine with B-24s, but not so good with the B-17, which could fly higher in an attempt to avoid anti-aircraft fire. We always liked to be a couple thousand feet above the bomber stream to do our S-turning, but even when its supercharger cut in at 19,000 feet, the P-47 would become sluggish trying to get above the highest B-17s. All that changed on July 1, when I took my first flight in the North American P-51C-10. I flew my first long-range mission in the Mustang on July 4, escorting bombers to Romania. We could take a P-51 up to 35,000 feet and it would still be maneuverable.

At Ramitelli airfield in Italy, McGee stands in front of the P-51C Mustang he named "Kitten" for his wife. At his side is Nathaniel Wilson, the Mustang's crew chief.

AH: Were you assigned a particular plane?

McGee: My usual P-51C was 42-103072, which as I recall bore the ‘buzz number’ 78. I christened it Kitten, which was my wife’s nickname, and my crew chief, Nathaniel Wilson, kept it purring, too.

AH: What was the squadron’s makeup?

McGee: Usually, each squadron would have 18 aircraft take off–16 and two spares. If everything went well as we climbed and formed up, the group leader would tell the spares to go on back to base. But if anyone was having engine trouble, then the spares would go wherever needed. The commander of the 302nd was Captain Edward C. Gleed. After he became group operations officer, the squadron was led by 1st Lt. Melvin T. ‘Red’ Jackson, then V.V. Haywood. In September 1944, I was promoted to first lieutenant and became a flight leader.

AH: Who led the missions?

McGee: Sometimes the squadron commander or operations officer led the formations, sometimes the group operations officer, and when the leader had a problem, someone next in line would be designated to assume the lead.

AH: Do any particular missions stick out in your memory?

McGee: They were all long flights, usually five hours and at least one I recall that was six hours. On those flights, you find that the cockpit really gets small and you can sweat through a leather flight jacket sitting up there under the sun. We were glad when we got off the target and we could be less rigid in keeping formation with one another. Fighter sweeps were great fun.

AH: When did you initially encounter aerial opposition?

McGee: I first saw Messerschmitt Me-109s over Markersdorf, Austria, on July 26, 1944. In his briefings, B.O. was very explicit about the way we operated. If enemy planes appeared to attack, the flight commander would designate who would go after them. The rest of us stayed with the bombers, doing S-maneuvers, and we were glad that we weren’t bomber pilots, who had to hold a tight formation as they made their final runs over the target, through enemy flak and fighters. On this occasion, the Germans didn’t attack the formation. In another sighting, 2nd Lt. Roger Romine was told to get them and got a kill.

AH: What about your aerial victory?

McGee: That was during the bombing mission to the Czechoslovakian oil refinery at Pardubice, north of Vienna. Their tactic on that occasion was to try to fly through the bomber stream and keep on going. We were pretty much over the target area when we spotted a Focke Wulf Fw-190 and I got the word, ‘Go get him.’ I fell in behind him, and he took all kinds of evasive action, diving for the ground. We were down over the local airfield–I remember seeing a hangar on fire out of the corner of my eye—when I got in behind him and got in a burst that must have hit something in the controls. He took a couple more hard evasive turns and then went right into the ground. I stayed low getting out, to stay out of the sights of enemy groundfire. During that time, I saw a train pulling into a little station, so I dropped my nose and made a firing pass at the engine. Then, when I thought I’d pulled away from where I thought all the ack-ack was, I began climbing back up. Romine was my wingman on that occasion, and somewhere in all that jinking he had lost me and had gone up to rejoin the formation. He saw the Fw-190 crash, though, and confirmed the victory for me. [McGee’s opponent was from Jagdgeschwader 300, three of whose Pardubice-based Fw-190As attacked the 5th Bomb Division and damaged two bombers before being driven off.] The 302nd’s 1st Lt. William H. Thomas got another Fw-190 and 1st Lt. John F. Briggs of the 100th Squadron downed an Me-109 on that mission. Unfortunately, Romine got killed after his 97th mission—in an on-the-ground accident in his airplane–in November 1944.

AH: Your flight log also credited you with an enemy plane on the ground at Ilandza, Yugoslavia, on September 8.

McGee: Yes, on some days, we were assigned a fighter sweep over an enemy airfield to go in and catch anything we could there. I was only credited with destroying one, but we damaged a great number of enemy aircraft on the ground.

AH: How many missions did you fly?

McGee: I flew a total of 136, of which 82 were tactical and 54 were long-range, high-altitude missions. I flew my last mission over Brux, Germany, on November 17, 1944, and it was a long one–about five hours, 45 minutes. Then, on November 23, I was shipped back to Tuskegee to replace a white twin-engine instructor. Training was now taking place for the 477th Bomb Group. I learned a number of years later that in 1945 the 302nd was disbanded; the 332nd went back to being a three-squadron group and its aircraft were assigned to the other squadrons. My Kitten went to the 301st Squadron, was renumbered 51 and flown by Lieutenant Leon Speers, who was shot down on April 24, 1945, and taken prisoner.

AH: What was it like teaching bomber pilots back at Tuskegee?

McGee: I think the first twin-engine instruction had already begun in the summer of 1943. Twin-engine pilot training started in the Beech AT-10 Wichita—what a clunker—then we switched to the North American TB-25J, a stripped-down B-25J. That was a marvelous plane, with great big radial engines, a lot more power—a wonderful training platform.

AH: What did you do later?

McGee: After Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945, the 332nd Fighter Group was disbanded and the 477th was preparing for the Pacific. At that time, the group was under a white commander, who told the black pilots that as trainees they could not use the officers club and he was designating a separate club for them. He ended up having 101 of the officers arrested for refusing to sign the paper stating that they had read and understood his directive on the use of clubs. The investigation that followed led to the commander’s being relieved, and Colonel Davis was brought in. Under B.O.’s leadership, the 477th was made into a composite group, with two squadrons of B-25Js and two squadrons from the 332nd Group, the 99th and 100th, flying P-47Ns. Shortly after Davis took over the group, it was moved to Lockbourne Air Base in Ohio, but the war in the Pacific ended on September 1, 1945, before the group was deployed. As the U.S. Army Air Forces started to close the Tuskegee facility, I joined the 477th Group at Lockbourne as assistant base operations and training officer in 1946. About the time that the U.S. Army Air Forces became the U.S. Air Force in 1947, they deactivated the composite group and reactivated the 332nd Fighter Group.

AH: What were your duties after World War II?

McGee: I had gone to Atlanta, Georgia, to take the examination to become a regular officer. I never heard a thing from it, but I was enjoying the flying, so I stayed in the Air Force as a reserve officer. They told us that we couldn’t fly all the time, so I picked the maintenance officer school at Chanute Air Force Base [AFB]. When I graduated, I got orders to go to my first integrated assignment—Smoky Hill AFB, at Salina, Kansas, as officer in charge of the base maintenance shops for the Boeing B-29 equipped 301st Bomb Wing of SAC [Strategic Air Command]. All the officers and technicians were white, but I got along perfectly fine with them. You wore your ribbons on your uniform in those days, and they knew I was a combat veteran.

AH: What were you doing when the Korean War broke out?

McGee: In May 1950, I got orders to go to the Philippines. I was grounded in a pilot reduction, but I had taken the flight officer’s program exam and had a ‘hip pocket warrant’ in operations, so I ended up as a base operations officer at Clark Field. Then, on June 25, the North Koreans invaded South Korea, and anyone who had experience on the P-51—or F-51, as it had been redesignated—was put on flight status. I was assigned to the 67th Fighter Bomber Squadron [FBS] of the 18th Group, which, with the group’s 12th FBS, was sent to Johnson AFB, Japan, to pick up F-51Ds without transition—because the F-51s given the Philippine air force were in such condition that it would take $1,500 each to put them in safe shape. On July 29, 1950, I took my first flight in a Mustang since November 1944. We flew to Ashiya, across Tsushima Strait from Korea, and began flying bombing and strafing missions while the Corps of Engineers built a strip for us outside Pusan. I flew to the K-9 strip to check on construction progress and spent the night under the wing of my plane.

AH: What were your combat activities once K-9 was established?

McGee: We’d be bouncing all over the place, flying interdiction missions against bridges, trains and trucks. I expended lots of bullets, napalm and rockets against supplies, troop movements, etc. The North Koreans fired as much at us as we fired at them, the heaviest fire coming from emplacements overlooking the valleys. I was the 67th’s maintenance officer. Then, on August 5, 1950, our CO, Major [Louis J.] Sebille, was fatally hit by anti-aircraft fire near Hamhung and crashed his Mustang into a concentration of enemy ground troops, for which he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. After that, [Major Arnold] ‘Moon’ Mullins became CO and I became the operations officer and continued flying missions. During an attack on the Kigye Valley on September 16, I was hit in the wing. I got back to Pusan with a 1-inch hole and damage to the left wing spar—it needed major repairs.

McGee flew 100 missions during the Korean War, flying F-51D Mustangs with the 67th Fighter-Bomber Squadron.

AH: Where did you go after the United Nations counteroffensive broke out of Pusan in September 1950?

McGee: We flew out of a forward strip in Pyongyang—until the Army got to the Yalu River and the Chinese intervened in late November. We then operated out of our main strip at K-10 in Suwon, where we were joined by No. 2 Squadron, South African Air Force, also flying the Mustang. I helped give them their first theater indoctrination, then they flew their own missions. I also spent 30 days serving as air liaison for the 19th Infantry Regiment of the 24th Division.

AH: Did you have any problems with the South Africans, given their policy of apartheid?

McGee: No, I actually made some good friendships among them. We built a comradeship from the commonality of flying and fighting side by side.

AH: Did you have trouble with Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15s?

McGee: No, we didn’t think about enemy planes—most jets were flying at high altitude.

AH: How long were you in Korea?

McGee: On February 20, 1951, I flew my 100th mission, then went back to the Philippines for assignment to the 44th FBS as operations officer. There, I checked out in Lockheed F-80s. I loved jets from the first roll—I’d just read the tech order and was ready to go flying after 13 landings. After a couple months of flying, I became the CO and my wife was on her way. During that time, too, we had a West Pointer from the Thirteenth Air Force assigned to my squadron, 2nd Lt. Frank Borman. A nasal problem had grounded him, and the flight surgeon was reluctant to release him. I bootlegged some time for him and got the flight surgeon to put him back on flight status. Borman worked out all right and later became one of the early astronauts.

AH: Did you still fly missions?

McGee: We flew air defense missions for Formosa in our F-80s in 1951 and 1952. They used to love us to fly up and down over the rooftops of the capital city of Taipei—it showed our presence. They had an airstrip where we’d land to refuel. We’d stay three days, then fly back to the Philippines. The 44th did a lot of transition and theater training for recalled pilots on their way to Korea. I came home in May 1953, went to staff school and served in the United States, flying Northrop F-89 interceptors and Lockheed T-33s. In 1959, the exams I took back in 1945 finally caught up with me, when I got a letter saying, ‘Would you like to accept a Regular commission?’ I was then a colonel in the reserve, but I so enjoyed flying that I accepted the Regular USAF rank of lieutenant colonel and went to Italy to assist in Jupiter missile deployment. After two years commanding the 7230th Support Squadron at Gioia del Colle Airbase near Taranto, I came home again, to Minot, North Dakota. A significant sign that times were changing was the assignments I received. They were based on background experience. In 1964, I was assigned to Tenth Air Force headquarters at Richards-Gebauer AFB near Kansas City, Missouri, and my wife and I received on-base housing more openly than the first time. Then, in 1967, I got an assignment to the Pentagon, but those orders were changed to Vietnam. It involved training for two complete squadrons in the McDonnell RF-4C. I ended up commanding the 16th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron [TRS] at Tan Son Nhut AFB, near Saigon. The other, the 12th TRS, went to Udorn, Thailand.

U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Tom Coney (left) talks with his squadron commander, Lt. Col. McGee, after their final sortie in Vietnam. McGee was commander of the 16th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron in Vietnam.

AH: How long did you fly recon missions over Vietnam?

McGee: One year and 173 missions, predominantly over the northern part of South Vietnam. Some were over Laos and North Vietnam, but we didn’t get to MiG Alley—the folks from Thailand got that run.

AH: What were the greatest dangers for an unarmed reconnaissance plane?

McGee: The worst place was Mu Gia Pass when it was raining and foggy, and you relied strictly on your radar operator in those mountains. In the RF-4C, speed was our only protection when the Viet Cong or North Vietnamese threw groundfire at us. During night flights we’d see the tracers coming up behind us. Often, too, we’d get to the target area at high altitude, then we’d go down and fly at 360 knots at low altitude, in patterns to photograph the area. We’d raise that speed to 420 or 460 knots over a highly defended area.

AH: Were you ever hit?

McGee: Late in 1967, I was flying a day recon mission over one of the roads in Laos. It was a suspected infiltration route, but I’d received no intelligence of heavy defenses. As I was letting down, however, I took a high-caliber hit in my left wing, which left a big hole. I was losing fluids, though I couldn’t tell which ones. I had to divert to the nearest base on the coast, Da Nang, and it was the only time I had to make a front-end engagement landing, using my tail hook to make sure we wouldn’t run off the runway. It turned out we needed major repairs. I took the film out of the plane and hitched a ride with a general who happened to be going to Saigon in a twin-engine North American Rockwell T-39. When I got back, I turned in the film and resumed flying the next day.

AH: Were you concerned about your plane going down?

McGee: Well, the shooting got your adrenaline up—you’d put on more speed, which was about all you could do. Was I scared? Our military training set us up with the idea that you’re trained to do a job. You were too busy to dwell on the danger while you performed. Hopefully, you would get home in one piece.

AH: Were you at Tan Son Nhut when the Communist Tet Offensive broke out on January 31, 1968?

McGee: When the Tet Offensive broke out, most of the squadron pilots were at our walled compound off base. There were only six of us on base, and for three days we flew all of the squadron’s missions, since there was no movement allowed off base. We didn’t lose a mission. Soon hutches were built for us to live in on the base. At one point, the VC started mortaring the place. We had foxholes, but I’d just put my helmet over my head and stay in bed. Who knew where a round would land? Six or seven of the 16th’s planes were hit in revetments—some burned, some sustained shrapnel damage.

AH: When did you leave Vietnam?

McGee: My tour was up in May 1968, and after being given the choice, I went on a wonderful year’s tour in Heidelberg, Germany, as air liaison officer to Seventh Army Headquarters. I was promoted to colonel and became chief of maintenance for the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing. I got to fly F-4C Wild Weasels, F-4E air defense fighters and the F-4D, which I flew at Mach 2. Eventually, back in the States, Maj. Gen. Paul Stoney, commander of Air Force Communications Service, asked me if I’d like to take command of Richards-Gebauer AFB. I’d always wanted this administrative task, so on June 24, 1972, I got my opportunity, and with it came getting a ‘key to the city of Belton.’ It ended too soon, though. Due to a mandatory retirement policy based on 30 years unless you were made a general officer, I retired on January 31, 1973.

AH: What did you do as a civilian?

McGee: I spent 8 1/2 years in business and became vice president of real estate for the Interstate Securities Company, where my administrative training in the military fit in perfectly. After the corporation was sold, I got a degree in business administration; then I became director of Kansas City Downtown Airport. After a second retirement, I was selected as a member of the Aviation Advisory Commission. After my wife passed away in 1994, I moved east to live with my daughter, who is a television editor, here in Maryland.

AH: I presume you’ve kept in touch with fellow Tuskegee Airmen?

McGee: I was national president of the association from 1983 to 1985, and was a charter board member when Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., was established in Washington, D.C., in 1972. I’ve attended all but two annual conventions since then. I also do church work and participate in the Air Force Association. My approach to life was, and still is, ‘Do while you can.’

This article was originally published in the March 1999 issue of Aviation History magazine. For more great articles subscribe to Aviation History magazine today!