By: Kevin Hymel, ANC Contract Historian
For a somber event, the funeral for Colonel Charles McGee, the last Tuskegee Airmen pilot, was surprisingly joyous. The Air Force band set the mood by playing “Ode to Joy” as they followed the caisson to the burial location in Section 3 of Arlington National Cemetery. Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Richard S. Beyea III kept up the theme by declaring to the gathered mourners, “We are celebrating an incredible life.” McGee had lived 102 years before passing away on January 16, 2022. He had been promoted to brigadier general after his retirement.
After a flyover by fighter aircraft, Chaplain Beyea led the mourners in declaring “Hallelujah!” three times. He then spoke about McGee’s family: his wife Frances; his child; and his 25 great, great, great grandchildren. Beyea then listed McGee’s military accomplishments in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, a career spanning 30 years. In World War II, McGee served in a segregated military, and flew in the all-Black 332nd Fighter Group, which became famous as the Tuskegee Airmen.
“He was a humble and reverent warrior,” explained Beyea, “and he inspired others.” The chaplain also stressed the importance of laughing and crying in celebrating McGee’s long life. “And moving your hands like a fighter pilot [reenacting a dogfight].”
After an Air Force firing squad fired three volleys and a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace,” Chaplain Beyea led the mourners in three more Hallelujahs before turning to the casket and saying, “We’ll be with you soon.”