Tuskegee Airman engages with today’s Airmen

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by U.S. Air Force photo Mark Herlihy

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. — Before heading into Boston Oct. 27 to speak at an event co-hosted by the New England Tuskegee Airmen Chapter, retired Col. Charles E. McGee, a Tuskegee Airman, met with several Airmen.

McGee said he appreciates the opportunity he has to meet with this generation of Airmen.

“I think it’s important to know where we’ve been, because there are some things we don’t want to repeat,” he said. “It’s good to be part of that education, to pass on the lessons to our young people because they are the future.”

McGee served on active duty for 30 years, retiring in 1973. During that time, he became a command pilot with more than 6,000 flying hours and 400 combat missions in three major conflicts, World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War.

The Tuskegee Airmen, named after Tuskegee Army Airfield in Alabama, received pilot and aircraft maintenance training during WWII. The Tuskegee Airmen were not just flyers, but also radio operators, navigators, bombardiers, aircraft maintainers, support staff, instructors and all the personnel who kept the planes in the air.

Senior Airman Alfredo Maldonado, 66th Force Support Squadron personnelist, was one of the Airmen who were able to talk with McGee.

“I came to learn more about the Tuskegee Airmen, to learn more about the legacy of these pioneers,” Maldonado said. “What they accomplished is more impactful when heard in person by someone who experienced it firsthand. I’m glad I had this opportunity and thankful he could spend some time with us.”

McGee’s message to the Airmen was to work hard for what they want. He discussed what current Airmen could learn from the experiences of Tuskegee Airmen.

“We (Tuskegee Airmen) could have bowed our head and said ‘They don’t like me, they don’t want me,’ and gone off into the corner,” he said. “What would that have accomplished? We wouldn’t have served our country nor dispelled a biased policy that said because of skin color we didn’t have talent.”

McGee said he has been most proud of the opportunity he had to serve his country.

“Being able to serve our country was certainly a big step during that time,” he said. “Today that’s what we’re (Tuskegee Airmen) all about, providing opportunity and encouragement to our young folks.”

McGee, as well as retired Lt. Cols. Enoch Woodhouse and George Hardy, also Tuskegee Airmen, were in the area to participate in “A Conversation with History” at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

McGee offered this advice to Airmen serving in the Air Force today.

“Believe that you can,” he said. “If you have doubts about your ability you’re shorting yourself. You’ve got to believe and then be willing to go for it.”