Brig. Gen. Charles Edward McGee, one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen, has died. He was 102 years old.

McGee, a legendary aviator, was promoted to brigadier general in February 2020, just weeks after he turned 100.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin tweeted a tribute to McGee, calling him an American hero, and saying he is grateful for McGee’s sacrifice, legacy, and character.

After earning his pilot’s wings on June 30, 1943, McGee became one of America’s first Black fighter pilots as part of the Tuskegee Airmen. In a time of segregation, McGee and his comrades in the 322nd Fighter Group proved Black people could be extraordinary pilots too. Tuskegee Airmen flew P-51 Mustang fighters, escorting bombers across Europe during World War II. The jets were painted with distinctive red tails, earning pilots the nickname “Red Tails.” They helped pave the way for the military to desegregate after the war ended.

McGee flew 409 combat missions over three wars between 1944 and 1968 — WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam War. His decorations include the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, the Air Medal and the Presidential Unit Citation.

McGee retired in 1973. In 2007, former President George W. Bush presented the Tuskegee Airmen the Congressional Gold Medal. A few years later in 2011, McGee was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame. The Tuskegee Airmen’s legacy will continue with the new T-7A training aircraft, nicknamed the “Red Hawk,” in a tribute to the planes they flew.

When he turned 100, he credited his long life to positive thinking. He celebrated by flying a private jet from Frederick, Maryland, to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. He also participated in the coin toss at the Super Bowl in Miami, along with three other centenarian veterans.

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