Brigadier Charles E. McGee UNITY Award

This annual award is bestowed on an individual that exemplifies the spirit of unity and shared values that were prevalent during World War II, when Americans were at their very best and most unified in the fight against authoritarianism, fascism, and racism. Named for a true gentleman who embodies and lives by these American ideals, retired Air Force Brigadier General Charles E. McGee, this award is a significant recognition of individuals actively working for the betterment of their community and living up to the moral integrity espoused by General McGee and his fellow members of the “Greatest Generation.”

Brigadier General Charles E. McGee, USAF (Ret.) is one of the last living members of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, an all African-American military pilot group who fought during World War II. General McGee was stationed in Italy with the 302nd Fighter Squadron of the 332d Fighter Group, flying his first mission on Valentine’s Day 1944.

This Gentle Warrior served more than 30 years and flew a total of 409 combat missions in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, one of the highest combat totals and longest active-duty careers by any Air Force fighter pilot in history. General McGee faced much discrimination during his time in service, but fought for his country with honor and dignity and has spent a lifetime inspiring others with his wisdom, goodness, and mentorship for all people to live up to their potential and to help make our communities, our country, and this world a better place.

Friends of the National World War II Memorial is proud to present the first Brigadier General Charles E. McGee UNITY Award to television broadcaster and trailblazer Robin Roberts, herself the daughter of a Tuskegee Airman, for inspiring and motivating people across the nation every day with her positivity, strength, courage, and faith.

The award will be presented on February 14, 2021, the anniversary of Brigadier General McGee’s first combat mission. The presentation will be virtual and shared to the public via video.

Tuskegee Airmen: A Tribute from Guardians of the Heritage

Their lives before Tuskegee were known to but a few
A Negro son in a racist land, living out of view
Amid so many faces, theirs may have gone unseen
But for a fateful decision to pursue a far off dream

They left behind the places they knew, the city streets and country roads
Converging from all walks of life to take this path they chose
Their reasons were as varied as their past lives and their hue
Yet destined to come together, a common lot they drew

An inner voice guided as they set their standards high
These young black men in a world of strife, determined and eager to fly
In their heads there was a vision of a new and brighter day
In their hearts a faith their service would help to forge the way

They set out on a course that tested mind, body and spirit
The challenge was immense, but they were steadfast and committed
Believing in themselves and the worthiness of the prize
They proved equal to the rigors and gained access to the skies

As pilots they served America, when their chance was earned
For love of country they paid a price, war’s harshest lessons learned
They fought on despite loss and hardship, in the face of bigotry and hate
Becoming guardians of hostile skies and masters of their fate

Ten men below worked tirelessly for each fighter overhead
And in time opposition changed to respect, as word of their valor spread
Not so for black bombers stateside, who were trapped in an endless stall
Denied their rights, some were jailed, and none would answer the combat call

War heroes came home when the battle ended with victory in hand
But Tuskegee Airmen were shunned and rejected, still seen as less than their fellow man
Once more whey would not be denied, their will too strong to fail
And they fought on for justice and democracy to prevail

With their unrelenting efforts resistance began to yield
Critics forced to step aside, opportunity at last revealed
Finally the chance they fought for was extended to a few
Then others and still more, and from there the numbers grew

While the rest is part of history, their work is not complete
Until promise is reality, we have a charge to keep
Inspired by their example, we strive for higher ground
And from their noble legacy our needed strength is found

Some ask how could they fight and die for such a thankless land
The answer is apparent from their shoulders where we stand
They fought against oppression, freedom the victory to be won
For in the American tradition, they are truly native sons

We are in awe of mortal men who rise to give their best
To make this world a better place before they take their rest
We honor and revere them for their lives of dedication
Tuskegee Airmen who dared to dream, their courage changed a nation

Excerpt from Tuskegee Airman, Biography of Charles E. McGee, by Charlene E. McGee Smith, Ph.D.
Copyright 1999, 2008 and 2012

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