One of the Last Surviving Tuskegee Airmen Pilots Laid to Rest

By Kevin M. Hymel, Historian on 6/22/2022

For a somber event, the funeral for Colonel Charles McGee, one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen pilots, 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. Beyea then listed McGee’s military accomplishments in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War—a military career spanning 30 years. In World War II, McGee served in a segregated military, and flew in the all-Black 332nd Fighter Group, part of the renowned 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.”

To learn more about the Tuskegee Airmen, explore our education module, "African American History at Arlington National Cemetery." 

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Kevin M. Hymel