This 1st Edition autobiography is SIGNED by arguably the most famous of the Tuskegee Airmen, Chuck “A-Train” Dryden. “A-Train” was also depicted in the critically acclaimed HBO movie “Tuskegee Airmen”. Dryden passed away in 2008.
Chuck Dryden, 87, Tuskegee Airman known as ‘A-Train’
By Kay Powell
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Chuck Dryden lived a history he never wanted forgotten, the story of the Tuskegee Airmen fighter pilots in World War II.
Commissioned in 1942, he was in the vanguard of the eventual integration of the military. He was among the first African-Americans to lead a fighter squadron into combat, and he was a member of one of the most successful flying squadrons in American military history. He survived a court-martial for buzzing a building and made the Air Force his career.
A command pilot with more than 4,000 flying hours, including combat missions in Korea, he retired in 1962 as a lieutenant colonel.
In 2007, he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
“He was an icon for the Tuskegee Airmen, Atlanta Chapter,” said its president, Floyd W. Stanfield Jr., of Rex.
Col. Dryden was one of 12 original Tuskegee Airmen in the chapter.
Charles Walter Dryden, 87, of Atlanta died at Atlanta Medical Center June 24. He had a history of diabetes and high blood pressure but had been sick only briefly, said his wife, Marymal Dryden. The funeral is at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Cascade United Methodist Church. Murray Bros. Cascade Chapel is in charge of arrangements.
As a toddler, Col. Dryden would fold paper, toss it into the air and call it an airplane. As a civilian, he learned to fly before he could drive, his wife said. He tried to enlist in the Army Air Corps twice but was turned down.
In 1941, the military, under executive order, began training at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama for an all-black fighting unit. Col. Dryden was accepted into the second Aviation Cadet Training Class. He was called “A-Train” for his favorite Duke Ellington cut of the song and because of his New York City background, his wife said. He joined the 99th Fighter Squadron, flying P-40F Warhawks.
On June 9, 1943, Col. Dryden, then 22, led six other pilots into combat over Pantelleria, Sicily. “It was the first time in aviation history that black American pilots of the U.S. Army Air Corps engaged aircraft in combat,” he said in a 1997 Atlanta Journal-Constitution article.
The 99th shattered racist stereotypes, flying more than 15,000 missions during the war and fiercely protecting American and Allied bombers they escorted. No bombers escorted by Tuskegee Airmen were lost and, in time, pilots were requesting them as escorts.
“We dared not fail,” Col. Dryden said. “We dared not fail because the white folks could say, ‘See, we knew they couldn’t do it.’ ”
He was proud of himself, his squad and all Tuskegee Airmen, until he returned to the United States. He was stationed at a base in South Carolina where German prisoners of war, he said, received better treatment than blacks.
“Can you believe that? These were enemies from Germany on that base who had less restrictions than blacks. That was very painful,” he said. “It’s still very painful.”
He shared that pain in his 1997 autobiography, “A-Train: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman.” He retold it to student and civic groups and in media interviews.
Col. Dryden made the military his career so he could keep flying. “He hoped to have a career as a commercial pilot, but because of discrimination he was unable to be hired,” his wife said. He held a master’s degree and moved to Atlanta to work for Lockheed Martin’s Marietta facility in the 1970s. He was a founding member of the Atlanta Tuskegee Airmen chapter and is in the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame.
“We had the feeling that wherever we went, whatever our skills were, we’ve got to be No. 1,” he said in a 2006 article.
“They didn’t think we were even human,” he said. “That was our main obstacle we had to overcome. The irony is that we turned out to be the best the Air Force had in terms of fighter escort.”
That is the history he did not want forgotten.
Survivors include three sons, Charles Walter Dryden Jr., of Maui, Hawaii, Keith Cameron Dryden of Orlando, and Eric B. Dryden of Atlanta; three stepsons, George Bingham, Anthony Bingham and Kenneth Bingham, all of Atlanta; a stepdaughter, Cornelia-Rose White, of Atlanta; a sister, Pauline Miles, of Denver; and five grandchildren.