Hanscom meets with original Tuskegee Airman

  • Published
  • By Mark Wyatt
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – Retired Col. Charles E. McGee, an original Tuskegee Airman, held an impromptu meeting Oct. 27 with Airmen here prior to speaking at an event in Boston co-hosted by the New England Tuskegee Airmen Chapter and the local chapter bearing his name.

Among those on hand to meet with the colonel at the Minuteman Commons was Senior Airman Alfredo Maldonado, a personnelist assigned to the 66th Force Support Squadron, who has been in the Air Force for less than three years.

“I came to learn more about the Tuskegee Airmen, to learn more about the legacy of these pioneers,” said Maldonado. “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 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.”

Another Airman there to meet the retired colonel was Airman 1st Class Quinton Coke, also a 66 FSS personnelist who has been in the Air Force for 18 months.

“Col. McGee has done so many incredible things throughout his career; I didn’t want to miss this opportunity to hear him speak,” he said.

McGee’s message for each of the Airmen he spoke with 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 the biases that had been part of the policy that said because of skin color we didn’t have talent.”

When asked what he is most proud of, McGee said, it was the opportunity 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.”

Hosting the colonel was Galen Williams, the Col. Charles E. McGee Tuskegee Airmen Chapter president.

“Tuskegee Airmen epitomize diversity and inclusion,” he said. “These men never said no, they just looked at how they could do things a little bit better and paved the way for all Airmen that followed.”

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, Korea and Vietnam.

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

McGee’s long list of awards include the Legion of Merit with an oak leaf cluster, Distinguished Flying Cross with two clusters, Bronze Star, Air Medal with 25 clusters, Army Citation, Korean Presidential Unit Citation, the Hellenic Republic World War II Commemorative Medal and several campaign service ribbons.

McGee, as well as retired Lt. Cols. Enoch Woodhouse and George Hardy, each Tuskegee Airmen themselves, was in the area to participate in “A Conversation with History” at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. Proceeds from the event went toward the chapter’s scholarship program.

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.”