On Friday, 6 December, Col. Charles McGee went flying for his 100th birthday. He actually flew the aircraft, with a copilot, and walked on and off the aircraft firm of voice and stride. Colonel McGee started flying in World War II, then stayed in the cockpit for the next thirty years, seeing combat in both Korea and Vietnam. He holds the US Air Force record, to this day, of 409 combat missions. As we commemorate the 75th anniversaries of D-Day at Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge this year, we note the number of World War II veterans rapidly falling to the far end of the actuarial tables. Accordingly, each one who remains with us, still of firm mind and voice, becomes more of a treasure.
McGee started his flying career when he volunteered out of a northern college to join the Tuskegee Airmen. While he was not in the first wave, he joined them in theater just in time to join the strategic bombing escort campaigns that earned the “Red Tails” immortal fame. Through ruthless internal discipline among the all black pilots, the Red Tails operated with such lethal focus that no one bomber under their protection fell to enemy fighter fire. Not one.
No one was allowed to go chasing fighters to rack up kills; pilots were directed by a unit leader to attack German fighters approaching the bomber formation, while other Red Tails held the line in the air around the bombers. Because they escorted the bombers all the way over the target and back into safe air space, the Red Tails sucked up flak, shrapnel from anti-aircraft guns on the ground just like the bombers. This denied the Luftwaffe even the smallest window to strike the bombers without fighter escort.
Here is an extended interview from earlier this year, a young 99 years!