CHAMPAIGN, ILL. (WCIA) — One of the nation’s most decorated Tuskegee Airmen, 102-year-old Charles McGee, died over the weekend. 

Leon Lomax, McGee’s great nephew, says he is sad about the loss but reflected on the legacy his uncle left for men and women of all colors.

“If he was to walk in the door right now, you would see me, be me,” Lomax said.

Lomax said they were close.

“In my eyes he was a true American hero.”

McGee was one of the first African American men to be a pilot in the U.S. military.

“He flew 409 missions in World War II, Korean War, Vietnam, and it was amazing,” Lomax said.

Lomax said the Tuskegee Airmen helped spark the civil rights movement.

“Those airmen went out and did their job the best they could to prove to people that they could fly, because they said we were not strong enough, our minds weren’t strong enough to fly.

African Americans proved the color of their skin did not preclude them from serving their country.

“They let everyone know that went through Tuskegee we are here to show people what we can do,” Lomax said.

McGee is no stranger to central Illinois, as he trained on the former Chanute Air Force base in Rantoul.

“He and the Tuskegee airmen left a great legacy, and to me it can be compared to what Dr. Martin Luther King did,” Lomax said.

In 2020, President Donald Trump promoted him to Brigadier General.

“He was just amazing; he was something that most men wish they could be,” Lomax said of his great uncle.

The promotion is an honor Lomax says his uncle would have received sooner, if it was not for the segregation and racism during the time McGee served.  

Lomax said when the Tuskegee Airmen returned home from World War II, even though they helped win the war, they were segregated again until President Truman signed a document making the Air Force one, no matter race. 

Lomax said he felt lucky to have known his uncle and wishes he could tell him he loves him just one more time.