Tuskegee Airman Charles McGee: ‘Do Whereas You Can’


Eugene Jacques Bullard, a former infantryman of the French International Legion, set a precedent when he obtained his flying certificates on Might 5, 1917, for it certified him as the primary black airman in American historical past. Considerably, nonetheless, the volunteer from Columbus, Georgia, had earned his flying standing from the French Air Service, which he served as a fighter pilot in Escadrilles N.93 and Spa.85 from August 27 to November 11, 1917. Bullard’s native United States wouldn’t permit black airmen to combat for his or her nation till 1943, when the primary of a contingent skilled at Tuskegee, Alabama, have been fashioned because the 99th Fighter Squadron and shipped out to North Africa. That unit and the 332nd Fighter Group that adopted would show their value within the final two years of World Battle II.

Moreover establishing an excellent report for efficiently defending U.S. bombers in opposition to enemy fighters, a number of of the Tuskegee Airmen went on to distinguished postwar careers within the U.S. Air Drive. One among them was Colonel Charles Edward McGee, who shared highlights of his lengthy profession with Aviation Historical past senior editor Jon Guttman.

Aviation Historical past: Might you inform us one thing of your childhood and schooling?

McGee: I used to be born in Cleveland, Ohio, on December 7, 1919. My mom handed away at my sister’s beginning, once I was little over a 12 months previous. We hung out in Cleveland and with grandparents who have been in Morgantown and Charleston, West Virginia. Once I was in third grade, my father was instructing at Edward Waters School in Jacksonville, Florida. We spent a 12 months there, then again to Cleveland till 1929, when he moved to Chicago, Illinois, the place he was doing social work.

AH: Your father appears to have been a reasonably outstanding citizen.

McGee: Sure. As well as, he was an African Methodist Episcopal Church minister. We by no means had lots, however I by no means bear in mind being hungry or not being clear. I don’t have any recollections of particular actions of bigotry, besides that faculties have been segregated, and after we have been in Florida, we lived in a small home that was out on the sting of city. Additionally, due to the extent of education for blacks within the South, after we returned to Cleveland, I needed to repeat third grade. I turned a Boy Scout in Illinois, and when my father’s ministry took him to Keokuk, Iowa, within the mid-Nineteen Thirties, I spent my second by means of senior years of highschool there. Within the fall of my senior 12 months, he returned to south Chicago and I graduated from Du Sable Excessive College in 1938. My household didn’t have the cash to ship me to school then, so I labored for a 12 months with the Civilian Conservation Corps in northern Illinois, the place I realized engineering and contour farming. I used to be then capable of attend the College of Illinois in 1940. I took engineering and was additionally within the Reserve Officer Coaching Corps (ROTC) program and a member of the Pershing Rifles.

AH: What have been your emotions when the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor–in your birthday–introduced the USA into the battle?

McGee: My father was preaching in a church in Gary, Indiana, in 1941, and I had taken a summer time job within the metal mill there. I used to be additionally within the Coleridge Taylor Glee Membership. We have been driving to sing at a church in south Chicago at 4 that Sunday afternoon after we heard the information of the assault on Pearl Harbor. We went on with the present, however I knew that a method or one other we have been going to be concerned within the battle.

AH: When did you first change into thinking about flying?

McGee: I don’t recall even seeing an airplane once I was younger. It was in regards to the time I used to be in school that the Military was starting to recruit nonflying personnel—communications, engineering, armament and mechanics—for a one-squadron black experiment at Chanute Area. Phrase of that was spreading by means of the black neighborhood. Effectively, I already had a draft card, so I crammed in that pilot’s utility. I used to be despatched over to a few locations in Indiana to take the examination, and once I handed that, in April 1942, I needed to take a bodily. I’d additionally been going with a lady from Champaign, Illinois, Frances E. Nelson, and that summer time we turned engaged. In my expectation of the decision to arms, I didn’t return to highschool in September—I continued working. Frances and I have been married on Saturday, October 17, and Monday morning’s mail had that letter I knew was going to return. On October 27, I used to be sworn into the enlisted reserve, and some weeks later, I bought the decision to go to Tuskegee.

AH: What have been a few of your first impressions of Alabama?

McGee: The journey down was my first actual expertise of the South. Because the prepare left southern Illinois, you needed to change your location within the automobile. We knew there have been sure barber retailers or eating places to go to in Chicago, however you possibly can really feel the change in ambiance and method as you entered the Deep South—you knew that no matter occurred, the regulation was not going to uphold no matter your place was. Once you have been a black man from the North, you particularly needed to be cautious what you stated and did. You realized to be further cautious when stopping to refill your automobile, and even keep away from some filling stations. To a level, the southern blacks have been involved about how a northern Negro was going to behave, and numerous conversations handled what you wanted to know and the place to go to maintain out of bother. One among my classmates occurred to be from a well-to-do household who owned a drug retailer in Montgomery, Alabama, and he helped steer me into the black neighborhood, since you didn’t go into the downtown space very a lot.

AH: Why did the Military select that location?

McGee: In these days, there was an important concern across the nation that once you get giant teams of blacks collectively, there’s bought to be bother. There have been locations within the North, like Colorado, California and Illinois, that have been turned down for the situation. Alternatively, the Tuskegee Institute had already had a profitable civilian pilot coaching program, so when the Military started its 99th Squadron experiment, Tuskegee, with flight instructors who started flying within the Nineteen Thirties, bought the contract.

AH: What was the Tuskegee coaching facility like?

McGee: By the point I bought to Tuskegee within the fall of 1942, the airfield had been accomplished, though that they had been coaching on it even whereas it was below development. The 99th had accomplished its 33-pilot cadre by the point I bought there. At the moment, too, Colonel Noel F. Parrish was the white commander. The earlier commander, Colonel Frederick Von Kimble, was not very supportive of this system, however he was relieved and changed by Parrish, who had been directing operations. He believed in this system and the folks.

AH: How did your coaching go?

McGee: I entered preflight coaching as a part of Class 43-G, however I used to be one in every of a number of who skipped higher preflight, maybe due to my school research, and ended up graduating in Class 43-F. Major coaching was at Moton Area, a grass strip simply exterior town of Tuskegee, within the Stearman PT-17. We then went on the Military airfield, which was the place our white instructors have been. We did fundamental coaching within the Vultee BT-13A and superior coaching within the North American AT-6. My spouse got here down and labored as a secretary for a Dr. Kenny within the Tuskegee Institute hospital whereas I used to be going by means of coaching, however I normally solely noticed her on Sunday afternoons.

AH: How did you do in coaching?

McGee: I bear in mind having a queasy abdomen within the first few flights and speaking to the flight surgeon, who simply stated, ‘Give up consuming fried meals for breakfast.’ I did, and I by no means had one other downside. My first test was on February 11, 1943, and the lieutenant stated it was unsatisfactory. I had two extra flights with an teacher, then tried once more on February 14 and handed the test. We used Eglin Military Air Area in Florida for gunnery coaching. I completed my final flying within the AT-6 on June 25, graduated on June 30, and on July 6 I had my first Curtiss P-40 trip. I additionally took blind flying within the AT-6, to enhance my instrument proficiency. I certified as skilled in gunnery however not almost as properly with handguns.

Tuskegee students pore over one of the school's Curtiss P-40 fighters.
Tuskegee college students pore over one of many college’s Curtiss P-40 fighters.

AH: The place did you go from Tuskegee?

McGee: I left Tuskegee in August for squadron and group formation flying and aerobatics at Selfridge Area, Michigan, the place the one centesimal, 301st and 302nd squadrons of the 332nd Fighter Group have been being fashioned. We have been absolutely fight prepared within the P-40L and P-40N by October-—and that’s when the choice was made that the group was going to fly the Bell P-39Q. It had the engine within the again and had much less horsepower than the P-40, however we younger pilots simply used to say, ‘If the crew chief can begin it, then I can fly it.’ We skilled on P-39s by means of November, and in early December we left Selfridge Area by prepare below labeled orders, arriving at Newport Information, Virginia. We left Newport Information on a giant convoy that zigzagged throughout the Atlantic and into the Mediterranean. My ship, with the 302nd Squadron, went to Taranto, Italy, then we trucked over to the Naples space, the place we started flying from Montecorvino.

AH: When did you start fight flying?

McGee: We started operations on February 14, 1944, patrolling Naples Harbor to the Isle of Capri, and we additionally did coastal patrol. My first patrol was on February 28. We moved as much as Capodichino on March 4, and did the remainder of our tactical patrolling from there. The P-39Q was too gradual and basically a low-altitude plane–we flew at 10,000 to fifteen,000 toes, and by the point we reached even that altitude to intercept intruders, they have been normally again in Germany. It was irritating. In the meantime, the boys of the 99th have been flying their P-40s with the 79th Fighter Group and shot down a number of plane over Anzio, incomes the fitting to be referred to as fighter pilots.

AH: When did that scenario change for you?

McGee: In Might they determined we have been going to go to the Fifteenth Air Drive. Because the Allies superior north, the bombers got here up from Africa to bases in Italy, however they have been getting their tails shot off over targets like Ploesti, so 4 single-engine fighter teams have been picked for the escort. There have been the candy-striped thirty first, the yellow-tailed 52nd, the ‘checker-tail clan’ of the 325th and the red-tailed 332nd.

AH: How precisely did the 332nd select pink?

McGee: As I perceive it, pink paint was what was available. I feel on the primary couple of planes they simply painted the rudder, however one of many pilots within the 332nd stated, ‘That’s not sufficient.’ Because it turned out, the gunners on the Boeing B-17s and Consolidated B-24s cherished it as a result of they may simply inform who was pleasant at excessive altitude over the goal space.

AH: I discover that Might 5 in your flight log has a star beside it.

McGee: That was the day I first flew the Republic P-47D Thunderbolt. A fair greater day was Might 23, when the group moved to Ramatelli on the Adriatic aspect and we started long-range escort flights. They took a farmer’s subject, arrange headquarters within the farmhouse, laid down pierced-steel planking, arrange a few squadrons on one aspect of the sphere with their tents, and one on the opposite. P-47D No. 280 was assigned me for many of my flights at the moment. It was simply after that point that the 99th was assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group, so all 4 of the black squadrons have been collectively.

AH: I perceive that the 99th was not pleased with that?

McGee: Effectively, you see, that they had been in fight a couple of 12 months, and we had solely been there 5 months. In addition they felt that that they had achieved a sure diploma of integration by flying with the thirty third and 79th teams. Although the thirty third’s commander, Colonel William Momyer, didn’t like them and his reviews have been all mediocre, the 79th’s Colonel Earl E. Bates noticed them as extra pilots for his group and allow them to function alongside the remainder of his squadrons. The 332nd Group’s commander, Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., had commanded the 99th, they usually have been happy to be serving below him once more, however there was somewhat resentment amongst their extra skilled pilots over the truth that the opposite squadron commanders and group workers had already been picked. However B.O. [Davis] was very sturdy, honest and extreme–he laid down the regulation and issues moved alongside.

AH: When did you fly your first escort mission into Germany?

McGee: That was a mission to Munich on June 13, and my feeling was, ‘We’re lastly doing the job we got here to do.’ We have been nonetheless flying the P-47, and for such long-range penetration missions, we’d normally have a gaggle carry the bombers out and one other group would take them again. The P-47 was positive with B-24s, however not so good with the B-17, which may fly increased in an try to keep away from anti-aircraft fireplace. We at all times favored to be a pair thousand toes above the bomber stream to do our S-turning, however even when its supercharger lower in at 19,000 toes, the P-47 would change into sluggish attempting to get above the best B-17s. All that modified on July 1, once I took my first flight within the North American P-51C-10. I flew my first long-range mission within the Mustang on July 4, escorting bombers to Romania. We may take a P-51 as much as 35,000 toes and it could nonetheless be maneuverable.

At Ramitelli airfield in Italy, McGee stands in front of the P-51C Mustang he named "Kitten" for his wife. At his side is Nathaniel Wilson, the Mustang's crew chief.
At Ramitelli airfield in Italy, McGee stands in entrance of the P-51C Mustang he named “Kitten” for his spouse. At his aspect is Nathaniel Wilson, the Mustang’s crew chief.

AH: Had been you assigned a specific airplane?

McGee: My normal P-51C was 42-103072, which as I recall bore the ‘buzz quantity’ 78. I christened it Kitten, which was my spouse’s nickname, and my crew chief, Nathaniel Wilson, saved it purring, too.

AH: What was the squadron’s make-up?

McGee: Often, every squadron would have 18 plane take off–16 and two spares. If every thing went properly as we climbed and fashioned up, the group chief would inform the spares to go on again to base. But when anybody was having engine bother, then the spares would go wherever wanted. The commander of the 302nd was Captain Edward C. Gleed. After he turned group operations officer, the squadron was led by 1st Lt. Melvin T. ‘Purple’ Jackson, then V.V. Haywood. In September 1944, I used to be promoted to first lieutenant and have become a flight chief.

AH: Who led the missions?

McGee: Typically the squadron commander or operations officer led the formations, generally the group operations officer, and when the chief had an issue, somebody subsequent in line can be designated to imagine the lead.

AH: Do any specific missions stick out in your reminiscence?

McGee: They have been all lengthy flights, normally 5 hours and at the least one I recall that was six hours. On these flights, you discover that the cockpit actually will get small and you’ll sweat by means of a leather-based flight jacket sitting up there below the solar. We have been glad after we bought off the goal and we could possibly be much less inflexible in conserving formation with each other. Fighter sweeps have been nice enjoyable.

AH: When did you initially encounter aerial opposition?

McGee: I first noticed Messerschmitt Me-109s over Markersdorf, Austria, on July 26, 1944. In his briefings, B.O. was very express about the best way we operated. If enemy planes appeared to assault, the flight commander would designate who would go after them. The remainder of us stayed with the bombers, doing S-maneuvers, and we have been glad that we weren’t bomber pilots, who needed to maintain a good formation as they made their closing runs over the goal, by means of enemy flak and fighters. On this event, the Germans didn’t assault the formation. In one other sighting, 2nd Lt. Roger Romine was informed to get them and bought a kill.

AH: What about your aerial victory?

McGee: That was through the bombing mission to the Czechoslovakian oil refinery at Pardubice, north of Vienna. Their tactic on that event was to attempt to fly by means of the bomber stream and carry on going. We have been just about over the goal space after we noticed a Focke Wulf Fw-190 and I bought the phrase, ‘Go get him.’ I fell in behind him, and he took all types of evasive motion, diving for the bottom. We have been down over the native airfield–I bear in mind seeing a hangar on fireplace out of the nook of my eye—once I bought in behind him and bought in a burst that should have hit one thing within the controls. He took a pair extra exhausting evasive turns after which went proper into the bottom. I stayed low getting out, to remain out of the sights of enemy groundfire. Throughout that point, I noticed a prepare pulling into somewhat station, so I dropped my nostril and made a firing move on the engine. Then, once I thought I’d pulled away from the place I believed all of the ack-ack was, I started climbing again up. Romine was my wingman on that event, and someplace in all that jinking he had misplaced me and had gone as much as rejoin the formation. He noticed the Fw-190 crash, although, and confirmed the victory for me. [McGee’s opponent was from Jagdgeschwader 300, three of whose Pardubice-based Fw-190As attacked the 5th Bomb Division and damaged two bombers before being driven off.] The 302nd’s 1st Lt. William H. Thomas bought one other Fw-190 and 1st Lt. John F. Briggs of the one centesimal Squadron downed an Me-109 on that mission. Sadly, Romine bought killed after his 97th mission—in an on-the-ground accident in his airplane–in November 1944.

AH: Your flight log additionally credited you with an enemy airplane on the bottom at Ilandza, Yugoslavia, on September 8.

McGee: Sure, on some days, we have been assigned a fighter sweep over an enemy airfield to go in and catch something we may there. I used to be solely credited with destroying one, however we broken a large number of enemy plane on the bottom.

AH: What number of missions did you fly?

McGee: I flew a complete of 136, of which 82 have been tactical and 54 have been long-range, high-altitude missions. I flew my final mission over Brux, Germany, on November 17, 1944, and it was an extended one–about 5 hours, 45 minutes. Then, on November 23, I used to be shipped again to Tuskegee to interchange a white twin-engine teacher. Coaching was now happening for the 477th Bomb Group. I realized a lot of years later that in 1945 the 302nd was disbanded; the 332nd went again to being a three-squadron group and its plane have been assigned to the opposite squadrons. My Kitten went to the 301st Squadron, was renumbered 51 and flown by Lieutenant Leon Speers, who was shot down on April 24, 1945, and brought prisoner.

AH: What was it like instructing bomber pilots again at Tuskegee?

McGee: I feel the primary twin-engine instruction had already begun in the summertime of 1943. Twin-engine pilot coaching began within the Beech AT-10 Wichita—what a clunker—then we switched to the North American TB-25J, a stripped-down B-25J. That was a wonderful airplane, with nice huge radial engines, much more energy—an exquisite coaching platform.

AH: What did you do later?

McGee: After Germany surrendered on Might 8, 1945, the 332nd Fighter Group was disbanded and the 477th was getting ready for the Pacific. At the moment, the group was below a white commander, who informed the black pilots that as trainees they may not use the officers membership and he was designating a separate membership for them. He ended up having 101 of the officers arrested for refusing to signal the paper stating that that they had learn and understood his directive on using golf equipment. The investigation that adopted led to the commander’s being relieved, and Colonel Davis was introduced in. Underneath B.O.’s management, the 477th was made right into a composite group, with two squadrons of B-25Js and two squadrons from the 332nd Group, the 99th and one centesimal, flying P-47Ns. Shortly after Davis took over the group, it was moved to Lockbourne Air Base in Ohio, however the battle within the Pacific ended on September 1, 1945, earlier than the group was deployed. Because the U.S. Military Air Forces began to shut the Tuskegee facility, I joined the 477th Group at Lockbourne as assistant base operations and coaching officer in 1946. In regards to the time that the U.S. Military Air Forces turned the U.S. Air Drive in 1947, they deactivated the composite group and reactivated the 332nd Fighter Group.

AH: What have been your duties after World Battle II?

McGee: I had gone to Atlanta, Georgia, to take the examination to change into a daily officer. I by no means heard a factor from it, however I used to be having fun with the flying, so I stayed within the Air Drive as a reserve officer. They informed us that we couldn’t fly on a regular basis, so I picked the upkeep officer college at Chanute Air Drive Base [AFB]. Once I graduated, I bought orders to go to my first built-in task—Smoky Hill AFB, at Salina, Kansas, as officer in command of the bottom upkeep retailers for the Boeing B-29 geared up 301st Bomb Wing of SAC [Strategic Air Command]. All of the officers and technicians have been white, however I bought alongside completely positive with them. You wore your ribbons in your uniform in these days, they usually knew I used to be a fight veteran.

AH: What have been you doing when the Korean Battle broke out?

McGee: In Might 1950, I bought orders to go to the Philippines. I used to be grounded in a pilot discount, however I had taken the flight officer’s program examination and had a ‘hip pocket warrant’ in operations, so I ended up as a base operations officer at Clark Area. Then, on June 25, the North Koreans invaded South Korea, and anybody who had expertise on the P-51—or F-51, because it had been redesignated—was placed on flight standing. I used to be assigned to the 67th Fighter Bomber Squadron [FBS] of the 18th Group, which, with the group’s twelfth FBS, was despatched to Johnson AFB, Japan, to choose up F-51Ds with out transition—as a result of the F-51s given the Philippine air power have been in such situation that it could take $1,500 every to place them in protected form. On July 29, 1950, I took my first flight in a Mustang since November 1944. We flew to Ashiya, throughout Tsushima Strait from Korea, and commenced flying bombing and strafing missions whereas the Corps of Engineers constructed a strip for us exterior Pusan. I flew to the Okay-9 strip to test on development progress and spent the night time below the wing of my airplane.

AH: What have been your fight actions as soon as Okay-9 was established?

McGee: We’d be bouncing all over, flying interdiction missions in opposition to bridges, trains and vehicles. I expended plenty of bullets, napalm and rockets in opposition to provides, troop actions, and many others. The North Koreans fired as a lot at us as we fired at them, the heaviest fireplace coming from emplacements overlooking the valleys. I used to be the 67th’s upkeep officer. Then, on August 5, 1950, our CO, Main [Louis J.] Sebille, was fatally hit by anti-aircraft fireplace close to Hamhung and crashed his Mustang right into a focus of enemy floor troops, for which he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. After that, [Major Arnold] ‘Moon’ Mullins turned CO and I turned the operations officer and continued flying missions. Throughout an assault on the Kigye Valley on September 16, I used to be hit within the wing. I bought again to Pusan with a 1-inch gap and harm to the left wing spar—it wanted main repairs.

McGee flew 100 missions during the Korean War, flying F-51D Mustangs with the 67th Fighter-Bomber Squadron.
McGee flew 100 missions through the Korean Battle, flying F-51D Mustangs with the 67th Fighter-Bomber Squadron.

AH: The place did you go after the United Nations counteroffensive broke out of Pusan in September 1950?

McGee: We flew out of a ahead strip in Pyongyang—till the Military bought to the Yalu River and the Chinese language intervened in late November. We then operated out of our important strip at Okay-10 in Suwon, the place we have been joined by No. 2 Squadron, South African Air Drive, additionally flying the Mustang. I helped give them their first theater indoctrination, then they flew their very own missions. I additionally spent 30 days serving as air liaison for the nineteenth Infantry Regiment of the twenty fourth Division.

AH: Did you could have any issues with the South Africans, given their coverage of apartheid?

McGee: No, I truly made some good friendships amongst them. We constructed a comradeship from the commonality of flying and preventing aspect by aspect.

AH: Did you could have bother with Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15s?

McGee: No, we didn’t take into consideration enemy planes—most jets have been flying at excessive altitude.

AH: How lengthy have been you in Korea?

McGee: On February 20, 1951, I flew my one centesimal mission, then went again to the Philippines for task to the forty fourth FBS as operations officer. There, I checked out in Lockheed F-80s. I cherished jets from the primary roll—I’d simply learn the tech order and was able to go flying after 13 landings. After a pair months of flying, I turned the CO and my spouse was on her manner. Throughout that point, too, we had a West Pointer from the Thirteenth Air Drive assigned to my squadron, 2nd Lt. Frank Borman. A nasal downside had grounded him, and the flight surgeon was reluctant to launch him. I bootlegged a while for him and bought the flight surgeon to place him again on flight standing. Borman labored out all proper and later turned one of many early astronauts.

AH: Did you continue to fly missions?

McGee: We flew air protection missions for Formosa in our F-80s in 1951 and 1952. They used to like us to fly up and down over the rooftops of the capital metropolis of Taipei—it confirmed our presence. They’d an airstrip the place we’d land to refuel. We’d keep three days, then fly again to the Philippines. The forty fourth did numerous transition and theater coaching for recalled pilots on their technique to Korea. I got here dwelling in Might 1953, went to workers college and served in the USA, flying Northrop F-89 interceptors and Lockheed T-33s. In 1959, the exams I took again in 1945 lastly caught up with me, once I bought a letter saying, ‘Would you want to just accept a Common fee?’ I used to be then a colonel within the reserve, however I so loved flying that I accepted the Common USAF rank of lieutenant colonel and went to Italy to help in Jupiter missile deployment. After two years commanding the 7230th Assist Squadron at Gioia del Colle Airbase close to Taranto, I got here dwelling once more, to Minot, North Dakota. A big signal that instances have been altering was the assignments I obtained. They have been based mostly on background expertise. In 1964, I used to be assigned to Tenth Air Drive headquarters at Richards-Gebauer AFB close to Kansas Metropolis, Missouri, and my spouse and I obtained on-base housing extra brazenly than the primary time. Then, in 1967, I bought an task to the Pentagon, however these orders have been modified to Vietnam. It concerned coaching for 2 full squadrons within the McDonnell RF-4C. I ended up commanding the sixteenth Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron [TRS] at Tan Son Nhut AFB, close to Saigon. The opposite, the twelfth TRS, went to Udorn, Thailand.

U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Tom Coney (left) talks with his squadron commander, Lt. Col. McGee, after their final sortie in Vietnam. McGee was commander of the 16th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron in Vietnam.
U.S. Air Drive Lieutenant Tom Coney (left) talks together with his squadron commander, Lt. Col. McGee, after their closing sortie in Vietnam. McGee was commander of the sixteenth Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron in Vietnam.

AH: How lengthy did you fly recon missions over Vietnam?

McGee: One 12 months and 173 missions, predominantly over the northern a part of South Vietnam. Some have been over Laos and North Vietnam, however we didn’t get to MiG Alley—the parents from Thailand bought that run.

AH: What have been the best risks for an unarmed reconnaissance airplane?

McGee: The worst place was Mu Gia Go when it was raining and foggy, and also you relied strictly in your radar operator in these mountains. Within the RF-4C, velocity was our solely safety when the Viet Cong or North Vietnamese threw groundfire at us. Throughout night time flights we’d see the tracers arising behind us. Typically, too, we’d get to the goal space at excessive altitude, then we’d go down and fly at 360 knots at low altitude, in patterns to {photograph} the realm. We’d elevate that velocity to 420 or 460 knots over a extremely defended space.

AH: Had been you ever hit?

McGee: Late in 1967, I used to be flying a day recon mission over one of many roads in Laos. It was a suspected infiltration route, however I’d obtained no intelligence of heavy defenses. As I used to be letting down, nonetheless, I took a high-caliber hit in my left wing, which left a giant gap. I used to be dropping fluids, although I couldn’t inform which of them. I needed to divert to the closest base on the coast, Da Nang, and it was the one time I needed to make a front-end engagement touchdown, utilizing my tail hook to ensure we wouldn’t run off the runway. It turned out we would have liked main repairs. I took the movie out of the airplane and hitched a trip with a basic who occurred to be going to Saigon in a twin-engine North American Rockwell T-39. Once I bought again, I turned within the movie and resumed flying the subsequent day.

AH: Had been you involved about your airplane taking place?

McGee: Effectively, the capturing bought your adrenaline up—you’d placed on extra velocity, which was about all you possibly can do. Was I scared? Our army coaching set us up with the concept you’re skilled to do a job. You have been too busy to dwell on the hazard whilst you carried out. Hopefully, you’d get dwelling in a single piece.

AH: Had been you at Tan Son Nhut when the Communist Tet Offensive broke out on January 31, 1968?

McGee: When the Tet Offensive broke out, many of the squadron pilots have been at our walled compound off base. There have been solely six of us on base, and for 3 days we flew the entire squadron’s missions, since there was no motion allowed off base. We didn’t lose a mission. Quickly hutches have been constructed for us to stay in on the bottom. At one level, the VC began mortaring the place. We had foxholes, however I’d simply put my helmet over my head and keep in mattress. Who knew the place a spherical would land? Six or seven of the sixteenth’s planes have been hit in revetments—some burned, some sustained shrapnel harm.

AH: When did you allow Vietnam?

McGee: My tour was up in Might 1968, and after being given the selection, I went on an exquisite 12 months’s tour in Heidelberg, Germany, as air liaison officer to Seventh Military Headquarters. I used to be promoted to colonel and have become chief of upkeep for the fiftieth Tactical Fighter Wing. I bought to fly F-4C Wild Weasels, F-4E air protection fighters and the F-4D, which I flew at Mach 2. Finally, again within the States, Maj. Gen. Paul Stoney, commander of Air Drive Communications Service, requested me if I’d wish to take command of Richards-Gebauer AFB. I’d at all times wished this administrative job, so on June 24, 1972, I bought my alternative, and with it got here getting a ‘key to town of Belton.’ It ended too quickly, although. Because of a compulsory retirement coverage based mostly on 30 years until you have been made a basic officer, I retired on January 31, 1973.

AH: What did you do as a civilian?

McGee: I spent 8 1/2 years in enterprise and have become vice chairman of actual property for the Interstate Securities Firm, the place my administrative coaching within the army slot in completely. After the company was bought, I bought a level in enterprise administration; then I turned director of Kansas Metropolis Downtown Airport. After a second retirement, I used to be chosen as a member of the Aviation Advisory Fee. After my spouse handed away in 1994, I moved east to stay with my daughter, who’s a tv editor, right here in Maryland.

AH: I presume you’ve saved in contact with fellow Tuskegee Airmen?

McGee: I used to be nationwide president of the affiliation from 1983 to 1985, and was a constitution board member when Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., was established in Washington, D.C., in 1972. I’ve attended all however two annual conventions since then. I additionally do church work and take part within the Air Drive Affiliation. My way of living was, and nonetheless is, ‘Do whilst you can.’

This text was initially revealed within the March 1999 difficulty of Aviation Historical past journal. For extra nice articles subscribe to Aviation History journal immediately!

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