Charles E. McGee, Colonel, USAF, Ret., is a veteran 137 mission WW-II P-51C Mustang combat pilot of the European Theater; a 100-mission 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing (67th Fighter-Bomber Squadron) P-51D pilot in Korea, plus 173 Tactical-Reconnaissance missions in F-4s over Vietnam; he was Commanding Officer of the 44th Fighter Squadron, is a Life-member of 18th Fighter Wing Association, and is current President of the renowned Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.
‘Colonel Mac’, a charter member of the 18th FWA (Registered Member No.55), was born December 7, 1919, in Cleveland, Ohio. He had moved between Ohio, West Virginia, Florida, Iowa and Illinois with his father, a prominent social worker and minister. As a youth he joined the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) to earn money for college, then studied engineering at the University of Illinois, where he joined ROTC unit and became a member of the Pershing Rifles.
As a youth, McGee had no special interest in airplanes, but ever-alert to improve himself, he learned that the Army Air Corps was recruiting non-flying technical personnel for an experimental All-black flying squadron at Chanute Field, IL. With the draft imminent, and breathing heavily down his back, he applied instead, for Amy Air Corps (AAC) pilot training, and was accepted in April 1942.
He was dating Frances Nelson during that famous 'Summer of '42' and they were married on October 17, 1942. Ten day later, on Oct 27, he was sworn into the Army Air Corps Enlisted Reserve, and just a short time later, received orders to report to Tuskegee, Alabama, for training with their all-black Flying Class 43-G. (He soon advanced to Class 43-F because of his prior college experience.) Primary Flight training in the Stearman PT-17s, Basic Training in Vultee BT-13s and Advanced Training in North American AT-6s built his flying techniques before he flew the single-seat Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter for the first time on July 6, 1943.
Following graduation as a 2nd Lieutenant, McGee was transferred to the 302nd Fighter Squadron at Selfridge Field, Michigan, for operational training in the P-40, then converted to Bell P-39s, with which they shipped out in early December 1943, sailing to southern Italy to join the war. Tactical operations began February 14, 1944 but, because of the speed and altitude limitations of the P-39, their assignments were confined mostly to coastal patrol duties. By May,1944, McGee's squadron had converted to Republic P-47 Thunderbolts (more affectionately known as ‘Jugs’) and were finally doing the work that would make the Tuskegee Airmen famous: escorting the B-17s and B-24s to their bombing targets. The short range of the P-47 was still a limiting factor - one that would not be fully corrected until July 1, 1944, when Lieutenant McGee would have his first chance to fly the exciting new North American P-51Cs.
The long-range and high-altitude performance of the Mustang allowed the escorting fighters to protect the bombers all of the way to and from their targets, plus giving the fighters occasional opportunity to take on, and clobber attacking enemy fighters.
McKee, flying P-51C No. 42-103072, named "Kitten", his pet name for wife Frances, achieved his first aerial victory over a German Fw-190, when he had to chase it almost to the ground before it exploded. Breaking away over an enemy airfield, he strafed a hangar and a switch engine on his way out. (That scene has been preserved for posterity in a popular painting by the noted aviation artist Stan Stokes, in the Stokes Art Collection, entitled "A Perfect Record", see ad, above)
By November 17, when 1st Lt. McGee, then a Flight Leader with the 302nd Sq., flew his 137th and final mission over Brux, Germany and, as a veteran combat fighter pilot, was transferred back to the 'States ... to Tuskegee Field, Alabama, to train bomber pilots in Beech AT-10s, which he described as being "real clunkers". But they soon converted to TB-25-J 'Mitchells', which he considered to be "wonderful training platforms".
After enduring an extremely humiliating discriminatory experience imposed upon 101 black Army Air Corps officers by a white commander, all of whom were actually arrested for refusing to sign a paper accepting an illegal order which ‘would have refused them service’ in the whites-only officers club, McGee transferred to Lockbourne, Air Base, OH where, under Col. Benjamin O. Davis, he became Base Operations and Training Officer in 1946. He took the Maintenance Officer training course at Chanute Field and upon graduation received his first ‘integrated assignment’ in the new U. S. Air Force, when he became Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of the Base Maintenance shops at Smoky Hill AFB, KS. The other officers and technicians were all white at that time, but the array of combat ribbons and decorations on McGee's chest told everyone that he had earned his position as a successful and respected combat veteran, and he experienced no racial problems.
In May, 1950, just before receiving orders for his transfer to Clark Field, Philippine Islands, McGee was snared in the Air Force-wide net of cost reduction ...the infamous "Johnson Purges" of then-Defense Secretary Johnson and, like many hundreds of extremely well-qualified pilots, was placed on Non-flying Duty... 'Grounded', through no fault of his own.
He was assigned briefly as Base Operations Officer upon arrival at Clark Field, but with the start of the Korean War on June 25, 1950 and a shortage of qualified fighter pilots, his wealth of P-51 Mustang flying experience was promptly recognized and he was soon transferred to the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group's 67th Fighter Squadron ... on full combat flying status. The 67th Squadron moved immediately to Ashiya, Japan, and commenced flying combat missions against the invading North Koreans in F-51 Mustangs, helping to save the famous 'Pusan Perimeter' and battling as far North as the Manchurian Yalu River border.
Captain McGee went to Korea as the Maintenance Officer for the 67th Sqdn, but upon the untimely loss of Major Lou Sebille, 67th Commander, Maj. 'Moon' Mullins, Operations Officer took command and the newly-promoted Major Charles McGee became the 67th Operations Officer. Between August 1, 1950, when McGee flew to Ashiya and began flying 67th combat (in F-51D Mustang named "Kitten II") and Feb. 20, 1951 ... he'd successfully completed 100 Korean War fighter-bomber combat missions... 'most of which were of the very dangerous, low-altitude interdiction and close support variety, which exposed the pilot to the greatest extremes of enemy ground fire.
Because of his limited total time spent in the Far East theater, Major McGee was transferred back to Clark AFB, Philippines, upon completion of his Korean combat, and where he initially became Ops Officer of the jet-equipped 44th Fighter Squadron, (Lockheed F-80Cs) taking Command of the squadron a couple of months later. His return to Clark gave him the opportunity for his wife Frances, to finally rejoin him at Clark Field.
The assigned task of the 44th 'Vampire' Squadron at that time, was unique in the new Air Force: shortly before the start of the Korean War, the 18th Fighter Group had converted all three squadrons (12th, 44th and 67th) from F-51 Mustangs to new Lockheed F80C jets. When the 12th and 67th deployed to Korea, they had left their full complement of F80s at Clark, from where they provided a replacement depot for the many, many F80s being lost to combat. In addition to furnishing pre-combat training for newly-arrived jet pilots, the 44th at Clark Field, and the 25th Sq. of the 51st Group on Okinawa, became solely responsible for the 'aerial protection' of the entire Southwest Pacific area and, when the fact of General Mao's Chinese Communists’ then-recent conquest of mainland China in mid-1949 was considered, the unknown intentions of the Chinese Reds' presented an immediate and serious threat to Formosa and the Philippine Islands.
Twenty-five short-range F-80s of the 44th Squadron at Clark and another twenty-five F-80s of the 25th Sq. at Naha, Okinawa, would never have been a great deterrent to a serious enemy, but the two orphaned squadrons made it appear that a substantial force was based on Formosa during that period. This charade was accomplished by having flights of four F80s depart their home bases to fly to Formosa, refuel, then 'buzz' the island at low altitude for an hour before landing at the opposite end to refuel again before flying to the home base of the opposite squadron ... the 44th to Okinawa, and the 25th to Clark Field, where they would spend the night. Then, on the following day they would repeat the process, returning to their home bases. The radar scopes of the mainland Chinese Reds showed continuing, ongoing jet aerial activity over Formosa ... although in reality, there were no jets actually based on the island of Formosa.
When Mac and Frances McGee returned to the 'States in May 1953, he attended Air Command and Staff School, then served in Air Defense Command flying Northrop F-89 interceptors and Lockheed T-33s. He was finally offered a belated Regular Air Force Commission in 1959, but by that time he was serving as a ‘Full‘ Colonel in the Active Reserve component; he had to accept a downgrade of one-rank - to Lt. Colonel in the Regular Air Force in order to continue his flying career.
However, he was then pulled from flying duty and assigned to assist in the deployment of Jupiter missiles to Italy for two years, before transferring to Minot, SD. Then, in 1964 he returned to Richards-Gebauer AFB for the 2nd time in his career, but that time finding on-base housing was, he commented: "much more readily available than it had been before."
Orders for duty at the Pentagon were received in 1967, but they were promptly changed, instead, to Vietnam. His initial duty was the training of two Tac-Recon squadrons in RF-4Cs, after which he would command the 16th Tac-Recon Sq. at Tan Son Nhut AFB near Saigon, while the 12th Tac-Recon was based at Udorn, Thailand.
'Colonel Mac' remained with the 16th TRSq. for a year, during which time he flew 173 combat reconnaissance missions in RF-4s, on several of which the Communist gunners attempted to ventilate his machine, much more than Mac would have preferred. He and five other pilots continued to fly missions during the Tet Offensive, when the majority of his pilots were unable to leave their off-base compound. They spent a lot of time under steel helmets in fox-holes, he reported, but as he noted, "why move around looking for cover .. when nobody knows where the next mortar round will land."
Upon completion of his Vietnam tour in May 1968, he elected yet another overseas tour ... a 'choice assignment' as Liaison Officer to 7th Army Headquarters at Heidelberg, Germany, where Frances soon joined him for 'a wonderful year', during which he was again promoted to Full Colonel, this time in the Regular Air Force. He then became Chief of Maintenance for the nearby 50th Tactical Fighter Wing at Hahn AFB, Germany ... where he flew the F-4C ‘Wild Weasels’, and ... ‘for his first time’, took their F-4Ds to Mach 2... twice the speed of sound.
Finally, back in the 'States once again, Major General Paul Stoney, Commander of Air Force Communications Service, asked Colonel Charles McGee if he would like to become the Base Commander at Richards-Gebauer Air Force Base ... an administrative assignment that Mac had cherished in his hopes and dreams. He readily agreed, and on June 24, 1972, began his 'third tour' at Richards-Gebauer air base; this time he was not only given his choice of housing ... but was honored with the Keys to the City of Belton, as well!
On January 31, 1973, Charles E. McGee, Colonel USAF, retired at a young 54 years, after thirty full years of extremely active Air Force duty and combat flying assignments in three major, very dangerous wars.
But Colonel Mac and Frances were not quite yet ready for the rocking chairs of retirement. Mac went to work in the civilian community and soon became Vice-President of Real Estate for a major securities firm and, after eight and a half years, when the company was sold, he returned to college for a degree in Business Administration. With the new sheepskin, he became Director of the Kansas City Downtown Airport and, after a second retirement, was selected as a member of the Aviation Advisory Commission.
His loving and beloved wife of 52 years, Frances, whose "Kitten" pet name had decorated so many of Mac's warplanes, passed away in 1994, following an extended illness, after which Mac moved to Maryland to be closer to his daughter and family. But he still refused all 'rocking chair' retirement offers, and remains active with his extensive travels.
He has been a Charter board member of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., since it was first established in 1972; he was National President of the that Association from 1983 to 1985, and is again serving in that capacity. He is a Life member of the Mustang Pilots Association, and of our 18th Fighter Wing Association, to name but a few. He traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, with our 18FWA contingent to participate in the annual reunion of the 'SAKWVA' (South African Korean War Veterans Assoc.) in September, 1997, and was welcomed by several former pilot-members of No. 2 Sq., SAAF ... whom he had personally flown with and trained upon their arrival in the Korean combat theater in late 1951.
He has been designated an Honorary Life Member of the South African Korean War Veteran's Association, (SAKWVA) and is authorized to "wear with pride", the distinctive Flying Cheetah badge of their historic No. 2 Squadron, SAAF.