It’s not every day that living history walks through the door.
That’s just what happened to Rocky Vista University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Parker on Oct. 18 when Col. Charles E. McGee, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, stopped by to speak to medical students serving in the military.
It was a packed house at the school’s Annual Military Appreciation Reception, which celebrates and honors future military physicians with a presentation in the auditorium.
The reception also pays tribute to those who came before, and a long line of medical professionals in the military, including Maj. Gen. Phil Volpe, the Task Force Ranger Surgeon during the Black Hawk Down incident in 1993, were given the schools Fighting Prairie Dog Award.
But the night belonged to McGee, whose speech about overcoming adversity to achieve one’s goals had the room hanging on his every word.
The 94-year-old, who appeared alongside his son and grandson on stage, joined the Tuskegee Airmen in 1942 at the height of World War II. The group was part of a program to test the skills of African-American pilots who to that point had not been allowed to join the Army Air Forces.
McGee more than proved his worth, flying 409 fighter combat missions in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. His aircraft of choice was the P-51 Mustang and he spent more than 30 years in the U.S. Air Force.
Despite civil rights struggles, McGee was “determined to serve his country,” and the country owes his generation a tremendous amount of gratitude, said McGee’s daughter, Dierdre.
“Your generation is the beneficiary of this rich heritage,” she told the students.