Born in New York City, Charles W. Dryden had a lifelong “urge to fly,” as he’d later describe. Joining the Army in 1941, he was a member of only the second graduating class of pilots with the Tuskegee Airmen. In 1943, he deployed to Africa and the Mediterranean with the 99th Pursuit Squadron, and flying his P-40 Warhawk “A-Train,” took part in the first aerial combat the Tuskegee American ever experienced.
Back in America, Dryden was stationed in Walterboro, South Carolina where they were shocked to discover that German prisoners-of-war had greater freedom and access on the racially-segregated base than the African-American servicemen. Infuriated, Dryden performed a low-level flight maneuver over the base as a protest, and was subsequently court-martialed.
Though he was not discharged from the service, late in life Dryden was adamant to keep the blemish on his record because, as he described, “A hundred years from today, I want people to know what we had to go through to say the enemy in our country was treated better than we were…” Dryden stayed in the military after World War II, flew again in Korea as a reconnaissance pilot, and retired as a Lt. Colonel with over 20 years of service.
Dryden became a professor of Air Science at Howard University, was later elected to the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame, and received an honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Hofstra University. Dryden was one of the first Tuskegee Airmen to write a memoir of his experiences, which he published as the book “A-Train: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airmen” in 1997.