100-year-old Tuskegee airman from Bethesda returns to the sky for his birthday

What makes a 100-year-old giggle? Well, for retired Tuskegee Airman Air Force Colonel Charles E. McGee of Bethesda, Maryland, it’s the memory of flying in enemy territory without a single weapon knowing he could outrun anything else in the sky.

“Our protection was speed and we used it,” McGee said of intelligence gathering missions in Vietnam.

McGee turns 100 on Dec. 7. He earned his Tuskegee Airman pilot’s wings on June 30, 1943. Drafted when he was a sophomore at the University of Illinois, he’s one of nine living Tuskegee pilots who flew combat missions. Over the course of a 30 year military career spanning three wars, McGee flew 409 fighter combat missions, more than any other U.S. serviceman.

100-year-old Tuskegee Pilot returns to the sky for his birthday
Retired Colonel Charles McGee speaks to WTOP's Kristi King about his three decades of military service and the future of aeronautics.
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Serving in Italy in 1944, McGee held the rank of Captain; in Korea in 1951 he was a Major; in Vietnam in 1968 he was a Lt. Colonel; at Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base in Kansas City, Kansas, McGee served as a Colonel in 1972.

Now in 2019, a rank McGee proudly remembers is that of Boy Scout.

“If everybody lived by the Scout oath and the 12 Scout laws, we would have a different country for sure,” McGee said. “It’s important that we don’t give up hope. If you give up hope on anything, you’re lost.”

Best development in 100 years?

Of all the changes McGee has witnessed, he’s most impressed by “the advancement of technology and where that’s taking us.”

McGee worries some schools aren’t keeping youngsters up to date about technology and its potential. He describes telling middle school kids about planes in the future that may go from New York to Tokyo in 1 1/2 to two hours once the structure of airplane bodies is stronger and fuel challenges are figured out.

“[I said,] ‘Y’all know, we’re planning to go t