Kansas City Airport renames terminal to honor Tuskegee Airman Brig Gen Charles McGee

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  • By Master Sgt. Bob Jennings

Outside the general aviation terminal at Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport, a Red-Tail P-51 Mustang kept silent watch through the windows as Pat Klein, Kansas City’s director of aviation, dedicated the terminal to retired Brig. Gen. Charles E. McGee, an original Tuskegee Airman, June 29, 2021, here.

The building’s new moniker is the Charles E. McGee General Aviation Terminal.

McGee attended the ceremony with his youngest daughter, Yvonne, where he was honored by seven speakers: Kansas City mayor Quinton Lucas; Brig. Gen. Mike Schultz, the 442d Fighter Wing commander from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri; Federal Aviation Administration administrator Steve Dickson; Kansas City councilwoman Teresa Loar; Lt. Col. Kenyatta Ruffin, the commander of the 71st Operations Support Squadron at Vance AFB, Oklahoma; and the president of Heart of America Tuskegee Airmen, Inc, Morcie Whitley.

McGee flew a Red Tail Mustang in World War II, much like the one that sat outside, as part of the 332d Fighter Group, escorting bombers to targets in Germany. In total, he flew 409 combat missions throughout World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

During World War II, the Tuskegee Airmen from the 332 FG were some of the most highly-decorated fighter pilots in the U.S. Army Air Corps, and bomber squadrons often requested them by name for escort duty. Living up to their reputation, the 332 FG lost just over half the average number of bombers that other squadrons lost.

“Any fighter pilot who successfully flies three conflicts is a fighter pilot’s fighter pilot,” Schultz said during his remarks. “I haven’t earned that one. I am not a fighter pilot’s fighter pilot. You, sir, are.”

McGee passed his qualification to fly the P-51 on a Monday. That Wednesday, he flew his first combat mission in an aircraft that took only 18 months to design, build, and ship to the front.

“We need to get back there,” Schultz said. “We need to be more agile. We need to be more adept and flexible. And we need to be more lethal.”

In addition to honoring his military service, Dickson, on behalf of the FAA, honored McGee by naming three sequential navigation waypoints – Tuskegee, Airman, and McGee – around Kansas City International Airport so that McGee’s name would be spoken by pilots for years to come.

Lucas and Loer honored the general by reading a proclamation recognizing McGee for all of his accomplishments and service to Kansas City.

A hush came over the room as the 101-year-old veteran stepped to the podium. He thanked the presenters for the honor, and spoke about the importance of taking care of young people, whom he called the future of our country.

“Are you mentoring?” he asked. “If you aren’t, you need to get about it.”

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