DALLAS — The oldest living Tuskegee Airman visited Dallas on Thursday to see a display at the National Aviation Education Center at Dallas Executive Airport. He and his remarkable life are the star attractions at that display.
His hope is that the stories of Black pilots who overcame incredible odds will encourage the next generation to take flight too.
As Brigadier General Charles McGee stepped out of a car Thursday morning and donned a bright red blazer adorned with the medals he received during his 30-year military career, it was almost like the arrival of royalty: but so much more important than that.
Having served in three different wars, starting with WWII, his record of 409 combat missions is still an Air Force record.
But under a full-scale replica of the P-51 Mustang he used to fly, with his name on the side and his wife's nickname "Kitten" that was on every plane he flew, WFAA had to ask if he was really 101 years old.
"Let's see," he said, while pretending to add up the years by counting his fingers.
"Three weeks from 102," he said, of his birthday coming up on Dec. 7.
And his is a life the Commemorative Air Force and its new National Aviation Education Center hopes will inspire a next generation: that if he and thousands of others could overcome segregation and racism to literally soar, what could today's students achieve?
"We want students to see themselves in the faces of those who have served before," said Nancy McGee, vice president of Education at the National Aviation Education Center. Her last name, the same as the brigadier general, just a coincidence.
"So, here we've got the faces and the stories and the characters, so they can see it and be it," she said.
The NAEC unveiled the Brig. Gen. Charles McGee and Don Hinz Theater, which educates the public about the history of the Tuskegee Airmen and the Women Airforce Service Pilots.
The Commemorative Air Force maintains more than 170 World War II aircraft – the largest collection of vintage military warbirds in the world. The CAF's educational outreach programs reach an estimated 20 million Americans each year, providing unique, compelling hands-on access to history.
The Henry B. Tippie National Aviation Education Center (NAEC), located at the Dallas Executive Airport and opening to the public on Friday, provides hands-on learning opportunities and activities for all ages.
And Charles McGee hopes his life, and the lives of the thousands of Tuskegee Airmen and support staff who served their country, can inspire others to take flight in their own way.
"I was able to actively fly 27 of my 30 years of service. How could I be other than thankful and realize that its an accomplishment that I can be proud of. But service is so important to be able to pass on to young folks," he said.
In a large airplane hangar, he would be the guest of honor at a grand opening ceremony in front of the same bombers the Tuskegee Airmen used to fly in formation to protect. But it's the lessons that outlive him that he hopes will take flight now.
"Many blessings from the good Lord for sure. Certainly, not that I sat down and said I want to do this, this, and this. Truly a blessing all the way," McGee said.
"The story still being told again, that's a blessing for sure."
A story today, 102 years and counting.