Meet the 100-year-old Tuskegee Airman honored at the State of the Union

He credits his longevity to “thinking positive and the good Lord’s many blessings.”
Retired Brigadier General Charles McGee, right, who served with the Tuskegee Airmen, attends the State of the Union address with his great-grandson Iain Lanphier on Tuesday in Washington.
Retired Brigadier General Charles McGee, right, who served with the Tuskegee Airmen, attends the State of the Union address with his great-grandson Iain Lanphier on Tuesday in Washington.

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/ Source: TODAY
By A. Pawlowski

A 100-year-old American hero stopped the political bickering in Washington, if for a brief moment.

Retired Brigadier General Charles McGee — a Tuskegee Airman and a veteran of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War — saluted and waved to loud applause when he was introduced at Tuesday night’s State of the Union address.

He was accompanied by Iain Lanphier, his 13-year-old great-grandson, who hopes to attend the Air Force Academy and join the Space Force. Both were among the special guests sitting in the balcony of the House Chamber during President Trump’s speech.

McGee turned 100 last December, celebrating the milestone birthday by flying a private jet from Frederick, Maryland, to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

"I just fell in love with flying from the first step. I had never aspired to be a pilot," McGee told the Associated Press last fall. "But after my first flight, I was hooked."

He’s one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen, an all African-American pursuit squadron that was formed in Tuskegee, Alabama, in 1941. The program included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff and instructors.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1919, McGee enlisted in the Army Air Forces in 1942 and was one of the first pilots to graduate from the Tuskegee Institute the following year, according to the National WWII Museum. He flew a total of 409 aerial fighter combat missions during 30 years of military service, more than any other Air Force pilot, according to the White House.

He received an honorary promotion to brigadier general a few weeks ago.

McGee flies a Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet with assistance from pilot Boni Caldeira on December 6, 2019, the day before his 100th birthday.

McGee said the reasons for his incredible longevity are simple.

"Thinking positive and the good Lord’s many blessings,” he told WTOP in December. “We human beings are just one small aspect in a mighty grand world.”

It's been a busy few weeks for the centenarian: Last Sunday, McGee participated in the coin toss for the Super Bowl, one of four 100-year-old World War II Veterans to do so.

He's also taking part in Black History Month events, speaking at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum this Saturday.

In a recent interview with the museum, McGee shared his favorite advice for young people, which he called the “four Ps."

Perceive: “Dream your dreams," he said. "I always like to add that, hopefully, among your talents, you find something you like to do. I did in aviation.”

Prepare: Getting a good education is key. “Learn to read, write and speak well,” he said. “Develop your talents.”

Perform: “Let excellence be your goal in everything that you do,” he said.

Persevere: Thinking back to his experience as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, McGee said, “Had we not persevered, we could have gone, ‘Oh, they called me names, they don’t like me’ and done nothing for our country. Don’t let the circumstances like that be an excuse for not achieving.”