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First Name: Charles

Last Name: Dryden

Birthplace: New York, NY, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Air Force (1947 - present)

Middle Name: Walter

Date of Birth: 16 September 1920

Date of Death: 24 June 2008

Rank: Lieutenant Colonel

Years Served:
Charles Walter Dryden

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)
•  Korean War (1950 - 1953)


Charles Walter "A-Train" Dryden
Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Air Force

Charles Walter Dryden 16 September 1920 in New York, NY, to Jamaican parents who were educators. He graduated from Peter Stuyvesant High School and earned his B.A. degree in Political Science from Hofstra University and his M.A. degree in Public Law and Government from Columbia University.

Three months prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Dryden enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a cadet. Sent to Tuskegee Army Flying School, a segregated training base in Alabama for black aviators, he became a member of the 42-D, the second class graduated from the station.

Dryden was assigned to the 99th Fighter Squadron, the first black U.S. military flying unit that was dispatched to North Africa under command of Lt. Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. The inexperienced unit flew P-40s in air-ground support and medium bomber escort missions and soon earned the respect of senior officers, challenging initial skepticism in many quarters as to the ability of Negroes in flying and fighting. On 9 June 1943, Dryden was flight leader of six P-40s on patrol over the island of Pantelleria when they encountered Luftwaffe fighters escorting bombers on a mission to attack allied troops. In the 99th's first encounter with enemy fighters, Lieutenant Dryden led his flight, outnumbered by the enemy, to victory, damaging one enemy fighter and causing the enemy bombers to drop their bombs into the sea and retreat. The novice 99th suffered no damage.

In October 1943, Dryden returned to the U.S. to help train an all-black fighter group to be designated the 332nd. As flight instructor at Selfridge Field, MI, and Walterboro Army Air Field, SC, Dryden prepared hundreds of pilots for aerial combat. Shortly after the three original squadrons of the 332nd arrived overseas, they were joined by the seasoned 99th, and the all-black group established itself as a well-disciplined, successful fighting unit. As escorts, this group never lost a friendly bomber to enemy fighters - a distinction to which no other allied fighter group can lay claim.

As a career officer, Dryden served in the Korean War as a Forward Observer pilot who flew an unarmed plane behind enemy lines relaying valuable information to headquarters on location and movement of enemy forces. Following the war, he served as a Professor of Air Science at Howard University. Dryden retired from the Air Force in 1962 as a Command Pilot with 4,000 hours flying time.

In Retirement

Dryden later retired from Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Systems Company in Georgia after 13 years and then worked actively in the greater Atlanta area (where he and his family had made their home) with young people in schools and churches. A source of inspiration for many who aspired to or have chosen careers in aerospace; he served on the advisory board of Aviation Career Enrichment, Inc., a non-profit youth motivation organization in Atlanta.


•Dryden was inducted into the Honorable Orders of Daedalians in 1997.

•He was designated an Outstanding Georgia Citizen by the Secretary of State in 1997.

•Member of the board of directors of the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame, the Atlanta Metro Lions Club and the Atlanta Chapter-Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. (ACTAI), which he helped found in 1978 and which he served as president, vice president and national convention committee chairman in 1980 and 1995.

•Dryden was the author of A-Train: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman, released in April 1997.

•In 1996, he was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters by Hofstra University.

•He was enshrined in the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame on 16 May 1998.

•In March 2007, President Bush and Congress awarded the Tuskegee Airmen the Congressional Gold Medal. Some 300 surviving airmen, including Dryden, gathered in Washington for the ceremony.


Dryden was married twice and had six sons and one daughter. Lt. Colonel Charles W. Dryden, an inspiration for so many, died in an Atlanta hospital at age 87.

Death and Burial

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Walter Dryden died on 24 June 2008 in a hospital in Atlanta, GA, of natural causes. He was 87. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.


Honoree ID: 2439   Created by: MHOH




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