Lt. Col. Charles "Chuck" Dryden, one of the first of the pioneering black World War II pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen, has died. He was 87.
Dryden died Tuesday in Atlanta of natural causes, said Roger Neal, a spokesman for the National Museum of Patriotism in Atlanta. Dryden was on the museum's board of directors.
"He was not just a part of American history; he helped to make it," museum founder Nick Snider said Thursday.
Dryden's 21-year military career included combat missions in Korea and assignments in Japan, Germany and U.S. bases. He retired from the Air Force in 1962.
About 1,000 pilots trained as a segregated Army Air Corps unit at the Tuskegee Army Flying School in Alabama during World War II.
Dryden was selected for aviation cadet training at Tuskegee in August 1941, only a month after the program began and four months before the U.S. entered World War II.
He was one of three men commissioned in April 1942 as a second lieutenant. Just five pilots had earned their wings in the program ahead of Dryden's class of three.
Dryden was a member of the famed 99th Pursuit Squadron and later the 332nd Fighter Group, which served in North Africa and Italy.
His P-40 airplane was nicknamed "A-Train," and Dryden titled his autobiography "A-Train: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman." It was published by the University of Alabama Press in 1997.
Last year, President Bush and Congress awarded the Tuskegee Airmen the Congressional Gold Medal. Some 300 surviving airmen — including Dryden — gathered in Washington for the ceremony in March 2007.
While attending the Washington gathering, Dryden told The Associated Press that he had mixed feelings about the event, since it came so many years after the war. But he added that the medal helped convince him that the country does recognize the airmen's contributions.
"It's really something," he said.
He recalled that after returning from his overseas service, he was stationed in Walterboro, S.C., where he saw German prisoners of war get privileges in theaters and cafeterias that were denied to black soldiers.
Dryden was born in 1920 in New York City to Jamaican parents. He earned a bachelor's degree in political science from Hofstra University and a master's degree in public law and government from Columbia University.
In 1998, Dryden was inducted into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame. He was also a professor of air science at Howard University.