BETHESDA, Md. — Even though he’s 99 years old, retired Air Force Colonel Charles McGee still climbs stairs. On Saturday, he’ll climb them into the airplane in which he took his first flight.

“After my first flight in a PT-17 I just knew I made the right decision,” McGee said. “To be able to get off the ground and loop roll and spin – I was hooked!”

McGee was one of the Tuskegee Airmen, the only black pilots of World War II. While white pilots were sent home after 25 missions, McGee flew 137 flights over Nazi Europe – protecting our bombers as part of the famous “Red Tail Squadron.” McGee then served in the Korea and Vietnam conflicts and earned the Congressional Gold Medal.

“Folks keep saying, ‘You’re a hero,’” said McGee, “I just served the country in a time of need.”

Stearman PT-17
A Boeing-Stearman Model 75, the same model of plane Charles McGee flew in WWII.
Julian Herzog / Wikimedia Commons

On Saturday, thousands will watch on as McGee arrives at Joint Base Andrews in the same plane used to teach Tuskegee pilots. Of the more than 800 trained, only 10 are living today.

“It’s a chance to be able to talk to some young people and hopefully motivate them,” said McGee.

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“The theme for the air show is legends in flight and he is a legend in flight,” said Vincent Mickens. He’s known McGee for six years and helped setup Saturday’s ceremony.

“It really didn’t take a lot honestly,” said Mickens. “I called and said, ‘Hey, there’s an opportunity with the colonel and would you like to recognize him?’ And they said, ‘Of course we would.’”

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McGee will sign autographs for young and old alike. Even as he closes in on a century, all he wants to talk about is the future.

“It’ll be a great day and I’m just happy to be able to motivate,” said McGee. “I just tell folks it keeps me out of the rocking chair.”

One of the last living Tuskegee Airmen will ride again in the WWII plane he trained in
Charles McGee was one of the Tuskegee Airmen, the only black pilots of World War II.

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