Charles E. McGee, a Distinguished Eagle Scout who broke racial barriers as a member of the all-Black flying unit known as the Tuskegee Airmen, died on Jan. 16. He was 102.
McGee received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007, was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2011 and presided over the coin toss at Super Bowl LIV in 2020.
These honors — and countless more throughout McGee’s life — represent the many ways the nation has tried to salute and thank McGee, whose military service lasted 30 years and spanned three wars: World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
McGee’s 409 combat missions and 6,308 flying hours are among the most in the history of the U.S. military. And his bravery wasn’t limited to time escorting bombers on raids across Europe. On land, McGee endured discrimination from white officers, threats from civilians and countless closed doors.
“Well, fortunately,” he said at Black History Month event in 2020 at NASA headquarters, “I didn’t think about that, that much.”
Throughout the years, the Boy Scouts of America has offered its own salute to the man who says Scouting helped shape his life. The honors included the National Capital Area Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award, which the council presented to McGee in February 2020 alongside a special shoulder patch honoring his legacy.
“If more people lived their lives by the Scout Oath and Scout Law,” McGee said at the event, “the world would be a lot better off.”
It started in Scouting
McGee became an Eagle Scout on Aug. 9, 1940, in Gary, Ind., according to the National Eagle Scout Association’s official records.
He enlisted in the military about 10 months after the attack on Pearl Harbor while he was a sophomore engineering student at the University of Illinois.
McGee left college to serve, embarking on a military career that lasted until his retirement as a colonel in 1973.
After his military service ended, McGee completed what he had started more than three decades earlier. In 1978, he earned a degree in business administration from Columbia College in Columbia, Mo.
McGee continued his Scouting career, too. As an adult, he served as an assistant Scoutmaster and district committee member.
In 2010, the BSA recognized McGee’s service both to our country and to Scouting with the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award.
Becoming an Eagle Scout is, by itself, a rarity — accomplished by less than 8% of Scouts. The Distinguished Eagle Scout Award, earned by less than 3,000 Eagle Scouts in history, takes rarity to another level.
To become a Distinguished Eagle Scout, someone has to have been an Eagle Scout for at least 25 years and achieved national-level recognition.
McGee certainly qualified, and the BSA planned a special reception for him at the 2010 National Scout Jamboree. It was one of the largest gatherings of Distinguished Eagle Scouts in history.
Glenn Adams, then president of the National Eagle Scout Association, had the honor of presenting the red, white and blue medal to McGee.
“There are few men of his level of profession that have a deep connection to Scouting,” Adams said at the ceremony. “It is fitting to be among Scouts to give the additional recognition he is due — long overdue.”
NESA committee member Joe Weingarten was there as well, calling the event “one of the highlights” of his Jamboree experience.
After the ceremony, McGee “spent a long time talking with Scouts,” Weingarten says. “I am certain those young Scouts will always remember him. His daughter kept trying to get him to break off for the trip home. No way — he wanted to talk to the Scouts.”
‘We can’t give up’
McGee’s next major Scouting honor came a decade later. In 2020, the BSA presented McGee with the Silver Buffalo Award — Scouting’s highest honor for an adult volunteer.
In remarks shared during the virtual ceremony, McGee said that America needs Scouting more than ever.
“We can’t give up mentoring the young folks on the direction that they ought to go and the things they ought to do,” he said.
He also encouraged Scouts to remember the Cub Scout Motto — “Do Your Best” — whether they’re 8 or 80.
“That should be a goal in everything you do — always doing your best,” McGee said. “Any time you do less than your best, you’re letting yourself down.”
Honored in Eagles’ Call
Longtime BSA contributor Mark Ray interviewed McGee for the winter 2010 edition of Eagles Scout Magazine. In the piece, which you can read here, McGee shared the message he gives when meeting a Scout who is not yet an Eagle Scout.
“Don’t give up until you’ve accomplished that goal,” he said. “Keep your eye on the goal of becoming an Eagle Scout, and it’ll give a better life that you’ll never regret.”