Tuskegee Airman Charles Dryden Dies At 87

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Charles Dryden, one of the first black World War II fighter pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen, died last week at the age of 87.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The African-American pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen were among the most valiant of World War II. In Atlanta today, one of those airmen will be laid to rest. Charles Dryden was among about 1,000 black pilots who during the war trained at the Tuskegee Army Flying School in Alabama.

Last year, the entire group was awarded the Congressional gold medal. That honor was a stark contrast to the treatment Dryden said he experienced when he began his military career. In an interview last year with Atlanta member station WABE, Charles Dryden remembered that African-Americans had been given menial jobs because of a study that came out after the First World War.

Mr. CHARLES DRYDEN (Former Pilot, Tuskegee Airmen): It stated in the study that negroes are a subspecies of the human family. That says in a nutshell exactly how black people were regarded.

MONTAGNE: Dryden said he and other pilots from Tuskegee got the chance to fly in combat partly thanks to help from the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. He joined the famed 99th Fighter Squadron, and at 22 years old he became one of the first black pilots to lead the charge into battle, leading six other pilots over Sicily.

Charles Dryden spent 20 more years in the Air Force, flying into combat in Korea and retiring as a lieutenant colonel. When he died last week, he was 87 years old.

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