The day after he got recognition in President Donald Trump’s state of the union speech, a 100-year-old Tuskegee Airman toured NASA Headquarters in Washington on Wednesday, 5 February.
Brig. Gen. Charles McGee, who served at World War II, Korean War and War in Vietnam, shared his experience as one of the first military pilots who are African American, to help in the fight, in front of a crowded auditorium.
From the first lesson, McGee loved flying right; he told YouTubers in a live-streamed program. “I became hooked when I was called … for the very first ride,” he said. “I loved flying and getting off the ground, rolling and spinning a loop and putting your feet on the ground once more, that’s it for me.”
Nevertheless, he pointed to the hardships that he and his fellow airmen encountered as African Americans were discriminated against and segregated, even in the theatres of war, throughout the early stages of the Second World War. Trump also referred in his address to this discrimination.
“He came back to a nation then dealing with civil rights issues and proceeded to serve the USA in Korea and Vietnam, after more than 130 combat missions during World War II,” Trump stated in his state of the Union speech. “I signed an act to appointing Charles McGee to Brigadier-General just a few weeks ago,” added Trump. “And earlier, in the Oval Office, I pinned the stars to his shoulders. Our country salutes you, General McGee. Thank you, sir.”
McGee belonged to the 332nd Fighter Group, whose actions in Italy were among other adventures to protect bombers— however, the team preceding him had a more significant challenge, he explained during a NASA function. The group, identified as the 99th Pursuit Squadron, had to wait for an additional three months since “no white commanding officer would accept them,” he said.
When eventually they landed outside the country, the 99th was allocated to a region far from the real action in northern Africa. Accusations emerged that only one German aircraft was shot down by the group in its first few forays while serving in Liberia.
African American astronaut Alvin Drew joined McGee on the stage, who flew twice during the 2007 STS-118 and 2011 STS-133 missions. Drew questioned McGee about the airman’s life and appreciated him for his service. “I appreciate you sincerely for giving me a chance,” said Drew, who put in 632 hours in space.
To date, according to NASA in a broadcast, Drew is the most recent African American to tour the International Space Station. Jeanette Epps, who also is an African American, was scheduled to visit the ISS in 2018, but rather a few months before her scheduled launch she was eliminated from the flight crew.