January 22, 2022
Subject: General Charles McGee and the Tuskegee Airmen: Freedom in Jesus Christ
2Corinthians 3:17 “The Lord is the Spirit; where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Freedom.”
“What freedom means is when I was told I couldn’t do something because of my happenstance of birth, it provided the opportunity to serve and prove I can. But freedom requires the endeavor from yourself.”
This definition of freedom is from Tuskegee Airman General Charles McGee, a member of the first all-black fighter pilot squadron that shattered the US military racial barrier during World War II. Their excellence in both skill and character became an example for Martin Luther King’s future Civil Rights Movement. General McGee, who was also a devoted follower of Jesus Christ, died this past week at 102 years old.
What did General McGee mean, by “when I was told I couldn’t do something because of my happenstance of birth”? Although black men served as pilots for France in WWl, they were at first not allowed to be US pilots in WWII. But America was desperate for pilots. A separate flight school in Tuskegee, Alabama was opened for black candidates. But most military leaders viewed the school as an “experiment”, citing a biased 1925 U.S. Army War College study that said “Blacks are mentally inferior, by nature subservient and cowards in the face of danger. They are unfit for combat.” While President Roosevelt issued the 1940 Selective Training & Service Act to “end army discrimination”, it did not end segregation.
And what did General McGee mean, by “Freedom provided the opportunity to prove that it also requires the endeavor from yourself”? Because they were given the freedom to pursue their dreams, these men, many of whom already had college degrees, set out to prove themselves. As General McGee explained: “It’s in freedom that you get the opportunity to prove that you have abilities.”
It is through freedom that he and many other Black Americans of his generation were able, by their commitment to personal accountability, to exceed their goals: 1) in a 30-year military career, McGee flew 409 combat missions in 3 wars (WWII, Korea and Vietnam), ending his career with 6,308 flying hours. 2) he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, the Air Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation, and promoted to Brigadier General, and 3) at age 58, get his college degree!
But the most distinguishing feature of General McGee’s success was who he was as a person – kind, humble and always encouraging to others, which he attributed to his lifetime devotion to Jesus Christ.
At his 100th birthday celebration, he said “The key to me is, again, a God-given life, to be an example for the young people who are the country’s future, not only in our family but in our community and our service.”
In this week’s verse, the apostle Paul explains how turning to Christ for forgiveness for your sin softens your heart to not only receive God’s gift of eternal life but also live in true freedom to pursue your goals, freed from the guilt of sin while holding yourself accountable to God for how you live your life. As Paul and General McGee say, when the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ lives within you, you are truly free.
Ed Croteau is a resident of Lee’s Summit and hosts a weekly study in Lees Summit called “Faith: Substance and Evidence.”