General Charles McGee, who flew 409 fighter combat missions in three wars as a Tuskegee Airmen has passed away, NPR reports. He was 102.

Vice President Kamala Harris along with Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III confirmed his passing on Twitter.

“Today, we lost an American hero,” Austin wrote. “Charles McGee, Brigadier General and one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen passed away at the age of 102. While I am saddened by his loss, I'm also incredibly grateful for his sacrifice, his legacy, and his character. Rest in peace, General.”

After the Army Air Corps was forced to admit Black pilots, McGee was part of the first class of over 900 men to receive flight training in Alabama from 1940 to 1946. Of the inaugural class of pilots, around 450 were deployed overseas with 150 losing their lives in training or combat.

McGee spoke about the courage he and his fellow Tuskegee brothers needed to overcome the racism in the military. 

“Once we proved that we could fly, they said we didn’t have the guts to fight in combat,” he said in a 1989 interview with The Washington Post. “But our record,” he added wryly, “speaks for itself.” 

McGee became the first African American to oversee a stateside Air Force wing and base in the integrated Air For and holds the distinction of being one of only a few pilots, Black or white, who flew combat missions during the Korean and Vietnam wars.

"You could say that one of the things we were fighting for was equality. Equality of opportunity,″ he said in The Associated Press in a 1995 interview. “We knew we had the same skills, or better.’

After a 30-year career in the Air Force and logging over 6,308 flying hours, McGee retired in 1973 as a colonel. 

McGee returned to school after retiring from the military, earning a bachelor’s degree in business from Columbia College in Missouri in 1978. He worked in real estate and directed the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport in Kansas City. A terminal was named after him last year.

Among his many military decorations were the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star Medal, Air Medal, and The Tuskegee Airmen were collectively awarded a Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor Congress can give civilians, in 2007 for their “unique military record that inspired revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces.”

In 2011, Gen. McGee was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

McGee was honored with a promotion to general at the age of 100 in 2020.

In addition to his daughter McGee Smith, of Athens, Ohio, and Annapolis, Maryland, survivors include two other children, Ronald McGee of Las Vegas and Yvonne G. McGee of Bethesda; 10 grandchildren; 14 great-grandchildren; and a great-great-granddaughter. His wife, Frances, died in 1994.

We extend our prayers and condolences to the family and friends of General Charles McGee.