Tuskegee Airman Charles McGee: ‘Do While You Can’

Eugene Jacques Bullard, a former infantryman of the French International Legion, set a precedent when he obtained his flying certificates on Could 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 battle for his or her nation till 1943, when the primary of a contingent skilled at Tuskegee, Alabama, had 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 price within the final two years of World Warfare II.

Moreover establishing an impressive file 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 Pressure. 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: May you inform us one thing of your childhood and training?

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 My mom handed away at my sister’s beginning, once I was little over a yr outdated. We frolicked in Cleveland and with grandparents who had been in Morgantown and Charleston, West Virginia. After I was in third grade, my father was educating at Edward Waters School in Jacksonville, Florida. We spent a yr 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 had been segregated, and once we had 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, once 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 way of senior years of highschool there. Within the fall of my senior yr, 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 yr with the Civilian Conservation Corps in northern Illinois, the place I discovered 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 had 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 season job within the metal mill there. I used to be additionally within the Coleridge Taylor Glee Membership. We had been driving to sing at a church in south Chicago at 4 that Sunday afternoon once 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 had been going to be concerned within the battle.

AH: When did you first turn into focused on flying?

McGee: I don’t recall even seeing an airplane once I was younger. It was concerning the time I used to be in faculty 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 way of the black group. 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 season we turned engaged. In my expectation of the decision to arms, I didn’t return to high school in September—I continued working. Frances and I had 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 acquired the decision to go to Tuskegee.

AH: What had 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 automotive. We knew there have been sure barber retailers or eating places to go to in Chicago, however you can really feel the change in environment and strategy as you entered the Deep South—you knew that no matter occurred, the regulation was not going to uphold no matter your place was. Whenever you had been a black man from the North, you particularly needed to be cautious what you stated and did. You discovered to be further cautious when stopping to refill your automotive, and even keep away from some filling stations. To a level, the southern blacks had been involved about how a northern Negro was going to behave, and loads of 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 group, 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 incredible concern across the nation that if you get massive teams of blacks collectively, there’s acquired to be bother. There have been locations within the North, like Colorado, California and Illinois, that had 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, acquired the contract.

AH: What was the Tuskegee coaching facility like?

McGee: By the point I acquired to Tuskegee within the fall of 1942, the airfield had been accomplished, though that they had been coaching on it even whereas it was beneath development. The 99th had accomplished its 33-pilot cadre by the point I acquired 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 individuals.

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 all a number of who skipped higher preflight, maybe due to my faculty research, and ended up graduating in Class 43-F. Main coaching was at Moton Area, a grass strip simply outdoors town of Tuskegee, within the Stearman PT-17. We then went on the Military airfield, which was the place our white instructors had been. We did primary 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 way of coaching, however I often 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, ‘Stop consuming fried meals for breakfast.’ I did, and I by no means had one other downside. My first verify 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 verify. 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 journey. I additionally took blind flying within the AT-6, to enhance my instrument proficiency. I certified as knowledgeable in gunnery however not almost as effectively with handguns.

Tuskegee college students pore over one of many faculty’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 hundredth, 301st and 302nd squadrons of the 332nd Fighter Group had been being fashioned. We had been totally 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 way of November, and in early December we left Selfridge Area by prepare beneath labeled orders, arriving at Newport Information, Virginia. We left Newport Information on an enormous 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 sluggish and primarily 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 had been often again in Germany. It was irritating. In the meantime, the boys of the 99th had been flying their P-40s with the 79th Fighter Group and shot down a number of plane over Anzio, incomes the precise to be known as fighter pilots.

AH: When did that state of affairs change for you?

McGee: In Could they determined we had been going to go to the Fifteenth Air Pressure. Because the Allies superior north, the bombers got here up from Africa to bases in Italy, however they had been getting their tails shot off over targets like Ploesti, so 4 single-engine fighter teams had 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 purple?

McGee: As I perceive it, purple paint was what was available. I believe 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 liked it as a result of they might simply inform who was pleasant at excessive altitude over the goal space.

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

McGee: That was the day I first flew the Republic P-47D Thunderbolt. A good greater day was Could 23, when the group moved to Ramatelli on the Adriatic facet and we started long-range escort flights. They took a farmer’s area, arrange headquarters within the farmhouse, laid down pierced-steel planking, arrange a few squadrons on one facet 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 had 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 yr, 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. Despite the fact that the thirty third’s commander, Colonel William Momyer, didn’t like them and his studies had 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 had been happy to be serving beneath him once more, however there was a bit of resentment amongst their extra skilled pilots over the truth that the opposite squadron commanders and group employees had already been picked. However B.O. [Davis] was very robust, 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 had been nonetheless flying the P-47, and for such long-range penetration missions, we’d often have a gaggle carry the bombers out and one other group would take them again. The P-47 was superb with B-24s, however not so good with the B-17, which might fly increased in an try to keep away from anti-aircraft hearth. We at all times appreciated to be a pair thousand toes above the bomber stream to do our S-turning, however even when its supercharger minimize in at 19,000 toes, the P-47 would turn 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 might take a P-51 as much as 35,000 toes and it might 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 facet is Nathaniel Wilson, the Mustang’s crew chief.

AH: Had been you assigned a selected aircraft?

McGee: My common 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, stored 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 all the things went effectively 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, typically 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 had been all lengthy flights, often 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 may sweat by way of a leather-based flight jacket sitting up there beneath the solar. We had been glad once we acquired off the goal and we could possibly be much less inflexible in retaining formation with each other. Fighter sweeps had 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 specific about the way in which 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 had been glad that we weren’t bomber pilots, who needed to maintain a good formation as they made their last runs over the goal, by way of enemy flak and fighters. On this event, the Germans didn’t assault the formation. In one other sighting, 2nd Lt. Roger Romine was advised to get them and acquired a kill.

AH: What about your aerial victory?

McGee: That was in the course of the bombing mission to the Czechoslovakian oil refinery at Pardubice, north of Vienna. Their tactic on that event was to attempt to fly by way of the bomber stream and carry on going. We had been just about over the goal space once we noticed a Focke Wulf Fw-190 and I acquired the phrase, ‘Go get him.’ I fell in behind him, and he took all types of evasive motion, diving for the bottom. We had been down over the native airfield–I bear in mind seeing a hangar on hearth out of the nook of my eye—once I acquired in behind him and acquired in a burst that should have hit one thing within the controls. He took a pair extra arduous 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 a bit of 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 assumed 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 acquired one other Fw-190 and 1st Lt. John F. Briggs of the one hundredth Squadron downed an Me-109 on that mission. Sadly, Romine acquired 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 aircraft on the bottom at Ilandza, Yugoslavia, on September 8.

McGee: Sure, on some days, we had been assigned a fighter sweep over an enemy airfield to go in and catch something we might 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 had been tactical and 54 had 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 exchange a white twin-engine teacher. Coaching was now happening for the 477th Bomb Group. I discovered quite 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 had 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 educating bomber pilots again at Tuskegee?

McGee: I believe 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 fabulous aircraft, with nice huge radial engines, much more energy—a beautiful coaching platform.

AH: What did you do later?

McGee: After Germany surrendered on Could 8, 1945, the 332nd Fighter Group was disbanded and the 477th was getting ready for the Pacific. At the moment, the group was beneath a white commander, who advised the black pilots that as trainees they might 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. Below 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 hundredth, 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. Concerning the time that the U.S. Military Air Forces turned the U.S. Air Pressure in 1947, they deactivated the composite group and reactivated the 332nd Fighter Group.

AH: What had been your duties after World Warfare II?

McGee: I had gone to Atlanta, Georgia, to take the examination to turn 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 Pressure as a reserve officer. They advised us that we couldn’t fly on a regular basis, so I picked the upkeep officer faculty at Chanute Air Pressure Base [AFB]. After I graduated, I acquired orders to go to my first built-in project—Smoky Hill AFB, at Salina, Kansas, as officer in control 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 had been white, however I acquired alongside completely superb with them. You wore your ribbons in your uniform in these days, they usually knew I used to be a fight veteran.

AH: What had been you doing when the Korean Warfare broke out?

McGee: In Could 1950, I acquired 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 pressure had been in such situation that it might 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 started flying bombing and strafing missions whereas the Corps of Engineers constructed a strip for us outdoors Pusan. I flew to the Ok-9 strip to verify on development progress and spent the evening beneath the wing of my aircraft.

AH: What had been your fight actions as soon as Ok-9 was established?

McGee: We’d be bouncing all over, flying interdiction missions in opposition to bridges, trains and vans. I expended a number 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 hearth 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 hearth 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 acquired 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 in the course of the Korean Warfare, 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 acquired to the Yalu River and the Chinese language intervened in late November. We then operated out of our major strip at Ok-10 in Suwon, the place we had been joined by No. 2 Squadron, South African Air Pressure, 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’ve gotten 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 facet by facet.

AH: Did you’ve gotten bother with Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15s?

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

AH: How lengthy had been you in Korea?

McGee: On February 20, 1951, I flew my one hundredth mission, then went again to the Philippines for project to the forty fourth FBS as operations officer. There, I checked out in Lockheed F-80s. I liked 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 means. Throughout that point, too, we had a West Pointer from the Thirteenth Air Pressure 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 acquired 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 loads of transition and theater coaching for recalled pilots on their option to Korea. I got here residence in Could 1953, went to employees faculty 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 acquired a letter saying, ‘Would you want to simply 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 residence once more, to Minot, North Dakota. A major signal that occasions had been altering was the assignments I obtained. They had been based mostly on background expertise. In 1964, I used to be assigned to Tenth Air Pressure 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 acquired an project to the Pentagon, however these orders had 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 Pressure Lieutenant Tom Coney (left) talks along with his squadron commander, Lt. Col. McGee, after their last 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 yr and 173 missions, predominantly over the northern a part of South Vietnam. Some had been over Laos and North Vietnam, however we didn’t get to MiG Alley—the oldsters from Thailand acquired that run.

AH: What had been the best risks for an unarmed reconnaissance aircraft?

McGee: The worst place was Mu Gia Move when it was raining and foggy, and also you relied strictly in your radar operator in these mountains. Within the RF-4C, pace was our solely safety when the Viet Cong or North Vietnamese threw groundfire at us. Throughout evening flights we’d see the tracers developing behind us. Usually, 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 pace 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 an enormous 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 aircraft and hitched a journey with a normal who occurred to be going to Saigon in a twin-engine North American Rockwell T-39. After I acquired again, I turned within the movie and resumed flying the following day.

AH: Had been you involved about your aircraft happening?

McGee: Effectively, the taking pictures acquired your adrenaline up—you’d placed on extra pace, which was about all you can do. Was I scared? Our navy coaching set us up with the concept that you’re skilled to do a job. You had been too busy to dwell on the hazard when you carried out. Hopefully, you’ll get residence 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, a lot of the squadron pilots had 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 had 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 had been hit in revetments—some burned, some sustained shrapnel harm.

AH: When did you permit Vietnam?

McGee: My tour was up in Could 1968, and after being given the selection, I went on a beautiful yr’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 acquired 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 Pressure Communications Service, requested me if I’d wish to take command of Richards-Gebauer AFB. I’d at all times wished this administrative activity, so on June 24, 1972, I acquired my alternative, and with it got here getting a ‘key to town of Belton.’ It ended too quickly, although. As a result of a compulsory retirement coverage based mostly on 30 years except you had been made a normal 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 navy slot in completely. After the company was offered, I acquired 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 stored 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 Pressure Affiliation. My lifestyle was, and nonetheless is, ‘Do when you can.’

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


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