A powerful new Air Force video pays tribute to Brig. Gen. Charles McGee and the Tuskegee Airmen

A screenshot from a new Air Force video about the legendary military aviator Brig. Gen. Charles McGee and the Tuskegee Airmen (Air Force photo)

A new video produced by the Air Force will have you standing to salute Brig. Gen. Charles McGee, a 100-year-old retired fighter pilot, who, along with his fellow Tuskegee Airmen, helped liberate Europe in World War II and bolster the cause of civil rights at home.

President Donald Trump honored McGee in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night.

"The Pittsburgh Courier came out and said this was a double victory activity for black Americans," said McGee of the role the Tuskegee Airmen played in turning the tide of World War II. "Fighting against Hitler in Europe and also fighting against racism here at home."

The video, which was uploaded to YouTube on Tuesday, was made in honor of McGee's honorary promotion from colonel to brigadier general in December.

The promotion is the latest in a long line of decorations for McGee, who was born in Cleveland Ohio, 1919 and who fought not only in World War II, but also in the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Along the way, McGee flew 409 combat missions and received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star and the Air Medal.

But it was in World War II that McGee helped open the door for generations of African-American aviators to serve their country.

"Tuskegee Airmen are black pilots, mechanics and support people who, when our country declared war against Hitler, came forward and dispelled the biases and generalizations that, because of the color of our skin, we couldn't support our country in a technical area," McGee said in the video.

Indeed the National Park Service confirmed in a handout about the Tuskegee Airmen that key leaders in the U.S. Army Air Forces "did not believe that African-Americans had the intellectual capacity to become successful military pilots."

But after succumbing to pressure from civil rights groups and African-American leaders, the Army decided to train a small number of African American pilot cadets under special conditions. That small number included McGee.

Trained at the Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), McGee was one of 1,000 aviators who became America's first African-American military pilots, spending the war shooting down German fighters, guarding American bombers, and knocking out enemy railroad cars and barges.

"Our task was to keep the air clear of German fighters that were destroying many of our bombers," McGee said in the video. "We thought we had enough guns on the B-17s and B-24s to protect them. That wasn't so and that's why the escort began. We also destroyed a lot of Germany's war-making potential on the ground."

(Wikipedia Commons / Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

McGee is recognized at the February 4, 2020 State of the Union address. Standing beside him is his great-grandson, Iain Lanphier, who hopes to join the Space Force.

To stand out, the Tuskegee pilots painted the tails of their aircraft red, earning the nickname "Red Tails."

But despite their success in the field, the airmen continued to face discrimination at home and aboard. At Freeman Field in Seymour, Indiana, where segregation was enforced under the command of Col. Robert Selway, 400 Tuskegee officers were listed as "trainees" while white officers were listed as "instructors," according to the National Park Service.

The so-called trainees were assigned to an old, dilapidated Officers Club that was sorely in need of repairs, according to NPS, and 60 Tuskegee officers were later arrested when they tried to enter the newly-built, fully-functional officer's club enjoyed by white aviators.

When the Tuskegee men refused to sign orders to comply with stricter segregation protocols on base, they were placed under armed guard, according to the NPS. Even German prisoners at Freeman Field were allowed free movement throughout the base.

After word spread of the arrests, many of the Tuskegee officers were released and Col. Selway was relieved of his command. The "Freeman Field Mutiny," as the incident came to be known, "set the pace for the non-violent protests and sit-ins of the 1950s and 1960s civil rights movement," NPS wrote.

Overall, the Tuskegee airmen's performance in WWII "helped pave the way for desegregation of the military, beginning with President Harry S. Truman's Executive Order 9981 in 1948," NPS added. "Consequently, the story of the Tuskegee Airmen constitutes a powerful and seminal metaphor for the struggle of black freedom in America."

McGee is no stranger to that metaphor.

"One thing personally folks say - 'well how'd you face that,'" McGee said in the video, about the extra fight of having to combat racism. "And I say, well I grew up learning that you treat others like you want to be treated. So important … and then realizing that the value lessons that sustained us are just as important for the young people today, and what they face for America's future and preserving the freedoms we claim we all so much enjoy.

"Don't let the circumstances be an excuse for not achieving," McGee added. "'They don't like me, they don't want me' ... [We could have] gone off in a corner with our head bowed. That's not the American way."

Army recruiters hold a swearing-in ceremony for over 40 of Arkansas' Future Soldiers at the Arkansas State Capital Building. (U.S. Army/Amber Osei)

Though the Army has yet to actually set an official recruiting goal for this year, leaders are confident they're going to bring in more soldiers than last year.

Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, head of Army Recruiting Command, told reporters on Wednesday that the Army was currently 2,226 contracts ahead of where it was in 2019.

"I will just tell you that this time last year we were in the red, and now we're in the green which is — the momentum's there and we see it continuing throughout the end of the year," Muth said, adding that the service hit recruiting numbers in February that haven't been hit during that month since 2014.

Read More
In this June 16, 2018 photo, Taliban fighters greet residents in the Surkhroad district of Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

KABUL/WASHINGTON/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - The United States and the Taliban will sign an agreement on Feb. 29 at the end of a week long period of violence reduction in Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Taliban said on Friday.

Read More
A screen grab from a YouTube video shows Marines being arrested during formation at Camp Pendleton in July, 2019. (Screen capture)

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

Another Marine was hit with jail time and a bad-conduct discharge in connection with a slew of arrests made last summer over suspicions that members of a California-based infantry battalion were transporting people who'd crossed into the U.S. illegally.

Read More
A soldier reunites with his daughter at Fort Bragg, N.C. after returning from the Middle East. The 82nd Airborne Division's Immediate Response Force had been deployed since New Years Eve. Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. (U.S. Army via Associated Press)

Some Fort Bragg paratroopers who left for the Middle East on a no-notice deployment last month came home Thursday.

About 3,500 soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team were sent to Kuwait beginning Jan. 1 as tensions were rising in the region. The first soldiers were in the air within 18 hours of being told to go.

Read More
A developmental, early variant of the Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle (CUSV) autonomously conducts maneuvers on the Elizabeth River during its demonstration during Citadel Shield-Solid Curtain 2020 at Naval Station Norfolk on Feb. 12, 2020. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Rebekah M. Rinckey)

Large cargo ships, small fishing boats and other watercraft sail safely past Naval Station Norfolk every day, but there's always a possibility that terrorists could use any one of them to attack the world's largest naval base.

While Navy security keeps a close eye on every vessel that passes, there's an inherent risk for the sailors aboard small patrol boats who are tasked with helping keep aircraft carriers, submarines and destroyers on base safe from waterborne attacks.

So the Navy experimented Wednesday to test whether an unmanned vessel could stop a small boat threatening the base from the Elizabeth River.

Read More