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TULLAHOMA, Tenn. — One of the first black U.S. fighter pilots to fly in combat will speak Feb. 16 at the University of Tennessee Space Institute.

Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Charles W. Dryden will speak at 2 p.m. in UTSI Auditorium on his life as a World War II fighter pilot and about his new book “A-Train: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman.”

The UTSI chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers is sponsoring the event as part of UTSI’s Black History Month program.

“Col. Dryden is an icon of history and a true American hero,” said Anthony Turner, chapter president. “He has an amazing story. It is a privilege to have him share it with us.”

The talk is free and open to the public.

Dryden in 1942 was among the first of about 1,300 black military aviators trained near Tuskegee, Ala., and known as the “Tuskegee Airmen.”

He led six pilots against enemy fighters over Pantelleria, Sicily, on June 9, 1943, in the first aerial combat by black American pilots.

In his fighter plane nicknamed “A-Train,” he was part of the U.S. 99th Pursuit Squadron’s highly successful air campaign in North Africa, Sicily and Europe.

His 332nd Fighter Group provided the best U.S. bomber protection of any fighter unit, escorting more than 200 missions and losing none to enemy fire.

Dryden, born Sept. 16, 1920, in New York, is a Hofstra University graduate. He earned the master’s degree in public law and government at Columbia University. Hofstra presented him an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters in 1996.

Dryden is on the boards of the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame and the Atlanta Metro Lions Club, and co-founded the Atlanta Chapter-Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., in 1978.