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Pioneering Tuskegee airman dies at 87
ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) -- Lt. Col. Charles "Chuck" Dryden, one of the first of the pioneering black World War II pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen, died Tuesday. He was 87.
Dryden died 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. Three hundred surviving airmen, including Dryden, gathered in Washington for the ceremony in March 2007.
At the Washington gathering, Dryden said he had mixed feelings about the event, because 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.
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