Honorary Promotions Authorized for Tuskegee Airman, Doolittle Raider

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Richard "Dick" Cole, left, and retired Air Force Col. Charles McGee will receive honorary promotions thanks to a provision in the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. (Images via U.S. Military)
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Richard "Dick" Cole, left, and retired Air Force Col. Charles McGee

Two distinguished veteran aviators are about to receive honorary promotions thanks to recent legislation.

The Fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act gives President Donald Trump the authority to promote retired Air Force Col. Charles McGee of the famed Tuskegee Airmen to brigadier general. It also authorizes the president to promote Richard "Dick" Cole, of Doolittle Raiders' fame, from lieutenant colonel to colonel posthumously.

McGee, who recently celebrated his 100th birthday, flew 409 fighter combat missions during World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American pilots, navigators and support personnel to serve during World War II, often escorting and protecting bombers.

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McGee, who lives in Bethesda, Maryland, was a trailblazing P-51 Mustang fighter pilot and received multiple Air Medals, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Legion of Merit over the course of his 30-year career, according to his biography.

"The honorary promotion of Col. Charles McGee to brigadier general in this year's National Defense Authorization Act was personal," said Rep. Anthony Brown, a Democrat from Maryland and former Army aviator. He issued a statement prior to the bill's passage Dec. 20.

"The recognition of Col. McGee's heroism is both well deserved and long overdue," Brown said. "As a barrier-breaking, African-American pilot and commander in the Air Force, Col. McGee's service has inspired generations of African-American aviators who followed in his footsteps."

In addition to his impressive aviator record, McGee became the first African-American to command a stateside Air Force wing.

The bill also gives Trump the ability to promote Cole, who died in April at age 103.

Cole had been the last surviving Doolittle Raider and flew alongside then-Lt. Col. James "Jimmy" Doolittle. The raid was famously named after Doolittle, who led 16 B-25 bombers and 80 crew members from the aircraft carrier Hornet in the western Pacific on a strike targeting factories and military installations in and around Tokyo on April 18, 1942.

Cole, a lieutenant at the time, received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his role in the bombing.

"The flight was designed to do two things: One, to let the Japanese people know that they could be struck by air. And the other thing was the morale, and we did that, so we were very proud of that," Cole told Military.com in 2016.

It’s not clear when Trump might authorize promotions for the two aviators.

Both McGee and Cole spoke to Military.com in recent years about their service.

"It came from the basis of doing something for our country -- for me, doing something I liked, knowing that's what I'd pass on to young people now," McGee said during a 2017 interview.

"We accomplished something that helped lead the country," he said. "We didn't call this civil rights. It was American opportunity."

In 2016, the Air Force announced it would name its next-generation B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber the Raider after the Doolittle Raiders. Cole made the announcement for the service.

In September of this year, officials introduced the service's new trainer jet as the T-7A Red Hawk -- known previously as the T-X -- in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen.

McGee was present for the announcement at the annual Air, Space and Cyber conference.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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