The National Capitol Squadron has been blessed by the availability of Aviation Heroes and Pioneers in the Washington, DC area to speak to us and associate themselves in a small way with the unit. The following persons have been recognized over the years by the Squadron as Honorary Members and in many cases recognized by the Commemorative Air Force for their achievements.
Brig. Gen. Charles E. McGee, USAF (Ret)
General McGee was born on December 7, 1919. After graduating from Chicago’s Dusable High School in 1938, he earned money for college by working in the Civilian Conservation Corps. Attending the University of Illinois in 1939, he joined the ROTC and was a member of the Pershing Rifles. With war declared after Pearl Harbor, he applied for a pilot’s slot in the experimental Tuskegee colored flight program and passed the examination. On October 19, 1942 he received his orders to Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama to begin flight training with his fellow black cadets.
On June 30, 1943, Charles graduated from flight school in Class 43-F. By the beginning of 1944, Second Lieutenant McGee had joined the pioneering all-black 332nd Fighter Group, 12th Air Force – flying P-39 Airacobras from a base near Naples, Italy. By May of 1944, the 332nd was with the 15th Air Force, flying P-47 Thunderbolts – and later, P-51 Mustangs – on fighter sweeps and long-range bomber escort missions out of Ramatelli. The 332nd, also known as the “Red Tails,” soon earned the respect of their Luftwaffe counterparts and of the white bomber crews they protected. By November of 1944, with 136 missions and a Focke Wulf 190 to his credit, Charles was heading home. He returned to Tuskegee as a twin engine instructor. Upon the war’s end, the Tuskegee Army Air Field was closed, and Charles joined the 477th Composite Group at Lockbourne Air Base, near Columbus, Ohio, in 1946. After several stateside assignments, May 1950 found him in the Philippines at Clark Field, as Base Operations Officer.
In June, 1950 another war broke out – in Korea. Colonel McGee soon found himself back in a Mustang and in combat, with the 67th Fighter Bomber Squadron based out of Pusan. Over his tour, Charles flew 100 low level bombing and strafing missions. Returning to Clark, he took command of the 44th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, eagerly transitioning into the F-80 jet fighter. In 1953, Colonel McGee graduated from the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base, and later flew F-89 Scorpions with the Air Defense Command.
By 1967, another war – Vietnam – called him back into combat. Leading the 16th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron out of Tan Son Nhut Air Base near Saigon, he flew RF-4C Phantoms on 173 more dangerous missions. The Air Force next sent him to Germany, promoting him to Colonel in 1969. In June 1972 he took command of the 1840th Air Base Wing at Richards-Gebauer AFB, Missouri. On January 31, 1973, after 30 years of military service, Colonel McGee retired from the Air Force. His 409 aerial fighter combat missions over three wars is a record that still stands.
His military honors include the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, Distinguished Flying Cross with Two Clusters, two Presidential Unit Citations, and many others. His civilian career included serving as Vice President of a real estate holding company, and Manager of the Kansas City Downtown Airport. He was instrumental to the growth of the Tuskegee Airmen Association, and his many additional honors include the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award, the National Aeronautics Association Elder Statesman of Aviation induction, the Air Force Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award and, on March 27, 2007, as a Tuskegee Airman, the Congressional Gold Medal. Our BT-13 replicates the aircraft he flew for basic flight training at Tuskegee Field.
On February 4, 2020, McGee was promoted from Colonel to Brigadier General.It was authorized in legislation introduced in December 2019 shortly after his 100th birthday.
Maj. Gen. John Alison, USAF (Ret)
General Alison was born in Florida in 1912, graduated in 1936 from the University of Florida with a degree in industrial engineering and received an ROTC Army commission in 1935. After flight training at Randolph Field, Texas, in 1937, he went to Langley Field, VA. When P-40s were sent to Great Britain as one of the initial Lend-Lease efforts, the Army Air Corps sent Alison to assist the RAF in their use. From there, Lt. Alison was sent on a top-secret mission to the Soviet Union to instruct in the assembly, maintenance, and operation of P-40s. From Russia, Alison was ordered to China for combat duty with the 75th Fighter Squadron flying P-40s with the former Flying Tigers. From China he was sent to create a unit that would permit Wingate to free Burma from the Japanese. Among the innovations that Alison helped bring to the 1st Air Commando Group were the first combat use of helicopters for rescue and the use of C-47s to snatch gliders off the ground from difficult locations behind enemy lines. During the last year of the war, Alison served as operations officer for Fifth Air Force, participating in the landings in the Philippines and in the air operations against Japan from Okinawa. Alison’s wartime achievements included seven victories (six in the air, one on the ground) and his many decorations. After WWII, he became the youngest-ever assistant secretary of commerce for aeronautics. He returned to the AF during the Korean War and eventually retired as a two-star general in the Air Force Reserve. He died June 6, 2011.
Flt. Lt. J. Kenneth Haviland, RAF, DFC, American
Dr. John Kenneth Haviland, retired Professor Emeritus of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Virginia, the last living American of those who flew for the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain died Monday, July 1, 2002. He was born Jan. 19, 1921, in Mt. Kisco, N.Y.; attended Nottingham University, U.K. and was a graduate of the University of London and MIT. Dr. Haviland was the last of the seven Americans who flew in the Battle of Britain where he flew Hurricanes in No.151Squadron. He remained in the British Royal Air Force throughout World War II, flying Mosquitos in the 192 and the 141 Squadrons, and was awarded the DFC on the 16th of February 1945, as a Flight Lieutenant with No. 141 Squadron. His score against the Luftwaffe was 3 destroyed, 1 shared and 2 unconfirmed. He died July 1, 2002.
Air Vice Marshal J.E. “Johnnie” Johnston, RAF (Ret)
Air Vice-Marshal J. E. “Johnnie” Johnson, CB, CBE, DSO, DFC, fighter ace, was born on March 9, 1915. Before the war, he applied to join the Auxiliary Air Force but was turned down due to a rugby injury. However, with war coming, he was able to join the RAF Volunteer Reserve. In August 1939 he was called up and after gaining his wings was posted first to 19 Squadron, and then to 616 Squadron. Johnson’s injury, exacerbated by an accident during training, now began to plague him. Opting for surgery, he returned to the squadron to gain valuable experience in 1941 when 616 flew on fighter sweeps over France as part of Group Captain Douglas Bader’s wing. On June 26, 1941 he shot down his first Me 109. By September he had six and he was awarded the DFC and made a Flight Commander. Early in 1943 he was appointed leader of the Canadian Wing at Kenley. Over the next four months, he added more than a dozen kills to his tally. In September 1943, with his score at 25, Johnson was rested from operations. He returned to operations in command of another Canadian Wing in March 1944. Involved in the intensive air attacks that preceded D – Day, Johnson continued to add to his tally. After the landings, Johnson led his wing to Normandy where it was the first Allied fighter unit to operate from French soil since the fall of France. Johnson’s last combat victory came on September 27, 1944, giving him a total tally of 38. In 1950 he was attached to the USAF in the Korean War, adding the US Air Medal and the Legion of Merit to his decorations. He died on January 30, 2001 at the age of 85.
Gen. Benjamin O. Davis, USAF (Ret)
General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. was born in Washington, D.C., on December 18, 1912 into a military family. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in June 1936 with a commission as a second lieutenant of infantry. For those four years, as a black cadet, he was totally shunned by the other cadets. In 1938 he assumed duties as professor of military science at Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Ala. In May 1941 he entered Advanced Flying School at nearby Tuskegee Army Air Base and received his pilot wings in March 1942. General Davis transferred to the Army Air Corps in May 1942. As commander of the 99th Fighter Squadron at Tuskegee Army Air Base, he moved with his unit to North Africa in April 1943 and later to Sicily. He returned to the United States in October 1943, assumed command of the 332d Fighter Group at Selfridge Field, Mich., and returned with the group to Italy two months later. Davis led their first bomber escort mission on June 9, 1944 of 39 P-47s, protecting B-24s on a round-trip to Munich. Near the target, the 332d took on 100+ German fighters. Davis personally led eight Thunderbolts attacking 18 enemy fighters, breaking the German attack and shooting down several receiving the DFC for that mission. Later, flying the famous “Red Tail” P-51 Mustangs, Davis led the fighter group on the first bomber escort to Berlin from Italy, a distance of 1,600 miles. Under Davis’ command, the 332d flew more than 15,000 sorties, shot down 111 enemy aircraft, and destroyed another 150 on the ground, while losing only 66 of their own aircraft. His Tuskegee Airmen did not lose a single bomber to an enemy fighter during 200 escort missions, totaling about 10,000 sorties into some of the most heavily defended areas of Germany. It was a tribute to their skill and to Davis’s leadership.
After the war he had assignments of increasing responsibility, Commander of the 332d Fighter Wing; DCS for Operations staff, HQ U.S. Air Force; Commander, 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing (flying F-86s), Far East Air Forces, Korea; Vice Commander, Thirteenth Air Force; Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe; Commander, 13th Air Force at Clark Air Base in the Philippines during the Vietnam War. His final assignment was as Deputy Commander in Chief, U.S. Strike Command. Gen. Davis received his fourth star on December 8, 1998. He died July 4, 2002.
Gen. Russell E. Dougherty, USAF (Ret)
General Russell Elliott Dougherty was born in Glasgow, Ky., in 1920 and is a graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Law School of the University of Louisville. After serving in the FBI, he entered military service as an aviation cadet at the outbreak of World War II and received his commission and pilot wings in March 1943. During World War II, he was an instructor pilot in ATC and later served in the 3d Air Force as a B-17 pilot and on a B-29 combat crew. In April 1950 he became the assistant staff judge advocate for FEAF Headquarters in Japan and, at the outbreak of the Korean War, was assigned to temporary duty in intelligence with FEAF. General Dougherty returned to the United States in 1951 and was assigned to Air Materiel Command as chief of the Appeals and Litigation Division, for Air Force procurement and contractual activities.
In December 1952 General Dougherty returned to flying with the Strategic Air Command and attended both B-29 refresher and KC-97 transition training. In June 1953 he began successive assignments in operations and command in SAC at Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ. Assigned to Headquarters 15th Air Force, SAC, as chief, Operations Division, he planned the B-52 round-the-world flight, Operation Power Flite, in 1957. General Dougherty had four assignments in joint and international duties. During 1964-65, he was the deputy director for plans and operations (J-3), Headquarters U.S. European Command. During this assignment in November 1964, he was the United States’ planner for the successful U.S./Belgian rescue operation at Stanleyville in the Congo. In August 1965 he returned to Washington as director, European Region, Office of the Secretary of Defense (International Security Affairs). In July 1967 he again returned to Europe and served as director, J-5, at Headquarters U.S. European Command. He died September 7, 2007.
In September 1969 General Dougherty was assigned to HQ U.S. Air Force where he served as the Assistant Deputy and then Deputy Chief of Staff, Plans and Operations. He was assigned as Commander, 2d Air Force, in April 1971. In this position, he commanded the U.S. Air Force’s largest numbered Air Force, consisting of the majority of SAC’s B-52 bombers and KC-135 tankers. On May 1, 1972, General Dougherty was promoted to his four-star grade and assigned as Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. He returned to the United States on Aug. 1, 1974, to become the eighth Commander of the Strategic Air Command.
Lt. Col. Donald S. Lopez, USAF (Ret)
Donald S. Lopez was born in July 1923. Growing up in Brooklyn, NY, he lived close to Floyd Bennett Field, where he often got free rides from a local pilot. When his family moved to Tampa, FL, he lost his free flights, but continued his interest in flying. He enrolled in the Civilian Pilot Training Program his freshman year at the University of Tampa. Although he signed up for the military at the start of WWII, because the flying schools were so crowded, he didn’t enter the Aviation Cadet Program until May 1942 after he had earned his private pilot’s license. Don Lopez received his silver wings a year later at Craig Field, Alabama. After transition to the P-40, he received orders to the 75th Fighter Squadron, 23rd Fighter Group, 14th Air Force in China, which replaced the disbanded AVG in July 1942. He joined the outfit at age nineteen and shot down five Japanese planes in the P-40 (4) and the P-51 (1) to earn his “ace” status. Late in the war, Lopez returned to Eglin Field, Florida, as a test pilot, evaluating early jets such as the P-59 and the P-80. He attended the AF Test Pilot School in 1947 and continued to evaluate fighters and other aircraft. When war broke out in Korea, he accomplished combat suitability tests in the F-86 and completed a short combat tour flying F-86s in Korea. Following a Pentagon tour, he earned a BS in aeronautical engineering at the Air Force Institute of Technology and a MS in aeronautics from the Caltech. He then spent five years at the U.S. Air Force Academy as an associate professor of aeronautics.
After his retirement from the U.S. Air Force in 1964, Lopez worked as a Systems Engineer on the Apollo-Saturn Launch Vehicle and the Skylab Orbital Workshop for Bellcomm, Inc., a subsidiary of Bell Labs serving as a systems engineering contractor for NASA. Colonel Lopez is currently the deputy director of the National Air and Space Museum, and has been with the Smithsonian since 1972, when he came to the Museum as assistant director for the Aeronautics Department. He died March 3, 2008.
Paul E. Garber
Paul Edward Garber was born in 1899 and fell in love with both aviation and the Smithsonian Institute growing up in Washington, D.C. As a 10-year-old, he watched Orville Wright fly the world’s first military airplane at Fort Myer, Virginia. At the age of 15, Garber built and flew in a full-scale 20-foot wingspan biplane glider based on a model seen at the Smithsonian. Garber joined the Army in 1918, and was scheduled for flight training at College Park, MD, but the war ended. Though he did learn to fly, he was not one of the regular pilots but more of a ground crewman and messenger during his short career with the Postal Air Mail Service after the Army. Garber, aviation buff and talented model maker, decided that he could best contribute to the future of aviation by preserving its past. In 1920, he began working at the Smithsonian, building models and preparing exhibitions. Most important, Garber was committed to building the best collection of historic aircraft in the world.
When World II came along, Garber was called into the Navy as a Commander. Aboard ship he noticed that the gunners were not getting good target practice. Garber thought that a kite could be an excellent target, especially one that could simulate aircraft maneuvers. Accordingly, he designed one that could do loops, dives and figure eights. Upon project approval, Navy Target Kites with Japanese Zero silhouettes were mass-produced under Garber’s supervision. Over 350,000 of them were made, and Garber spent most of the war on that assignment.
The storage of the aircraft collection had not been a major problem before World War II. Everything collected was on display at the Arts and Industries Building or on loan to another museum. But by the time Garber returned from service as a naval officer, Gen. “Hap” Arnold, commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces, had presented the Smithsonian with a complete collection of U.S. WWII aircraft along with captured enemy aircraft, stored in an abandoned airplane factory in suburban Chicago. The Navy also had a collection of historic aircraft in storage for the Smithsonian at Norfolk, VA. With the outbreak of the Korean War, the U.S. Air Force needed the factory and began to force the Smithsonian out. Determined to relocate the collection to the Washington area, and unable to find empty warehouse space, Garber persuaded a friend with a Piper Cub to help him do an aerial survey of the area. They found 21 acres of woodland in Suitland, MD owned by the National Park and Planning Commission, who turned it over to the Smithsonian in 1952. He was able to complete the facility with Army engineers clearing the site, a local contractor donating excess concrete, and the Navy providing, at cost, the first of the prefabricated buildings.
Paul Garber dedicated 72 years to the preservation of the nation’s aeronautical heritage through the Smithsonian, ultimately as Curator, Head Curator and then Senior Historian. He played key roles in the creation of the National Air Museum and construction of the present National Air and Space Museum. He died September 23, 1992.