Oconee Regional Library

A-Train, Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman

A review by Leard R. Daughety
February 15, 2003 

From 1941 until 1946, the United States Army Air Corps decided to conduct an "experiment" at the Tuskegee Institute to see if African Americans could be trained to fly and maintain military aircraft. Upon the shoulders of these "Tuskegee Airmen" would rest the hope of whether future generations would be allowed to pursue their dreams to "fly and fight" for their country. Almost 1,000 cadets would earn their aviator wings, flying over 15,500 sorties and more than 1,500 combat missions in the European Theatre. During these missions not one single Allied bomber was lost due to enemy fighters. More than 800 decorations for military valor ranging from the Silver Star to the Distinguished Flying Cross were awarded to those trained at Tuskegee. Their outstanding record paved the way for desegregation of the U. S. Armed Forces in 1948. From this group of airmen also came Daniel Chappie James, the first African American to hold the rank of four star general.

In thinking of ways for the Library to celebrate African American History month, as a former enlisted member of the United States Air Force and one who enjoys aviation history, I naturally thought of this group of valiant men. My persistency finally paid off when I was able to locate one of approximately 300 surviving Tuskegee Airmen. Lieutenant Colonel Charles W. Dryden USAF (Retired) currently lives in Atlanta. Colonel Dryden is  the author of A Train, Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman. 

Charles Dryden was born September 16,1920 in New York City and educated in its public school system. After graduation, he began attending the City College of New York. During his third year at CCNY, he discovered that while engineering was not his "cup of tea", the college's new Civilian Pilot Training Program was. In June 1940, he experienced a life long dream by soloing in a J-3 Piper Cub. With his new private pilot license in hand, Charles marched down to enlist in the Army Air Corps only to find that the United States did not allow "Negroes" in that branch of the Army! Dryden's experience was similar to many others of his race who found that the color of their skin was a barrier to jobs and occupations held by white citizens. In October 1940, President Roosevelt, urged on by his wife Eleanor and prominent Black leaders, ordered the Army to begin the "Tuskegee Experiment". Almost one year later in August,1941, the War Department issued Charles W. Dryden orders to report to  Tuskegee for flight training as a member of class 42-D. In the beginning, there were eleven members. On April 29, 1942, only Dryden and two others had completed the rigorous qualifications necessary to receive their wings and be commissioned as second lieutenants in the Air Corp. As part of the 99th Pursuit Squadron, equipped with the P-40 Tomahawk fighter, Lt. Dryden was ordered to sail on a convoy bound for North Africa in early 1943. Like other pilots of World War II, Dryden chose to name his plane after something that reminded him of home. In his case, it was the sweet sounds of Duke Ellington's "Take the A Train". On July 2, 1943, Dryden and his "A Train" received their baptism by fire over Sicily. In September, 1943, Lt. Dryden was selected to return to the United States to share his combat experiences with other African American pilots at Selfridge  Field, Michigan.

Charles Dryden went on to serve his country as a Tactical Air Controller during the Korean War, as an ROTC instructor at Howard University, and with the Air Defense Command at Fort Lee, Virginia. On August 31, 1962, Charles Dryden a command pilot, retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

In his book, Colonel Dryden presents a detailed description not only of his military career of 21 years but also presents a picture of what life was like for African Americans serving their country while being denied their basic civil rights.

Colonel Dryden will give a book talk at the Laurens County Library starting at 7:00pm, February 18, 2003.Copies of his book are on sale at the Library for a discounted price of $25.00. Colonel Dryden will handout bookplates with his autograph on the night of the presentation. Admission is free. 

Library's Choice

ChildrenMy Brother Martin, by Christine Farris; Salt in His Shoes, by Delores Jordan; Amazing Grace, by Mary Hoffman; Our Aunt Gracie, by Jaqueline Woodson; Wille's not the Hugging Kind, by Joyce Barrett; Roll of Thunder, Hear Me Cry, by Mildred Taylor; Sounder, by William Armstrong; Drylongso, by Virginia Hamilton; The Watsons go to Birmingham, by Christopher Curtis 

FictionAll of me, by Venise Berry; What You Owe Me, by Bebe Campbell; Queen of Harlem, by Brian Jackson; Hot Johnny, by Sandra Jackson-Opoku; Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands, by Susan McCarthy; Gonna Lay Down My Burdens, by Mary Monroe; Everyday People, by Stewart O'Nan; It's a Thin Line, by Kimberla Roby; Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do, by Valerie Wesley

NonfictionMany Thousands Gone:  The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America, by Ira Berlin; American Patriots:  The Story of Blacks in the Military, by Gail Buckley; Ensuring Equality, by Donna Franklin; Race and History, by Dr. J. H. Franklin; Pick a Better Country, by Ken Hamblin; Hellfighters of Harlem, by Bill Harris; Every Tongue Got to Confess, by Zora Neal Hurston; Growing Up King, by Dexter King

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