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United by pride, two war heroes honored in Riverdale

By Justin Boron

In the homes of Charles Dryden and Helen Kogel Denton hang the hallmarks of war heroes – plaques, certificates, and photos of the famous people they have met because of their roles in the military.

But beyond that, they don't have much in common on the surface.

Denton, 83, is a white secretary originally from South Dakota, who married a southern soldier after World War II. Dryden, 85, is a black pilot originally from New York, who now lives with his wife in southwest Atlanta.

What unites them is what brings most past members of the military together – their contributions to their country and the pride and honor that the country extends men and women like them each year.

Friday is Veterans' Day. But in Riverdale, the two will be recognized today during a city parade commemorating the observance.

Each of them made history during World War II but in markedly different fo will be recognized today during a city parade commemorating the observance

In a small room in England, Denton typed the top secret plans for Operation Overlord – the invasion of the Normandy Coast and liberation of Europe during World War II. It was something she kept to herself for 50 years.

This Saturday in Riverdale she'll have a street named after her, which runs between Wilson Road and Evans Drive.

She also has been interviewed by NBC's Mario Garcia for an upcoming special.

But no matter how many ceremonies in her honor or interviews she does, Denton manages to maintain her incredulity of her task's historical importance.

“I didn't think that I did anything different than working in any other office,” she said. “To me it was just my job.”

A member of the Tuskegee Airman Experiment which broke the color barrier for American military pilots, Dryden's accomplishment was equally significant.

For him it was a dream come true.

“The day when I got my wings I was smiling all over my face,” he said.

In his book “A-TRAIN: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman,” he describes a preternatural inclination toward flying.

He says as a child he would tear pieces of paper into bits and throw them into the air “lisping air'pwane, air'pwane” trying to tell the world that “I want to, I was born to, I must fly.”

In achieving his lifelong goal, Dryden helped deteriorate a myth that had been propagated by some in the military at the time – that blacks because of inferior intelligence and morale, couldn't pilot airplanes.

Not only did he fly in one of the first sorties by an all-black squadron, but Dryden also became political. Even after he and many others had proven themselves, he said they still were being unfairly characterized because of their race.

“I became so furious and so outraged with this treatment that I decided his protest,” he said.

To show off his expertise in the cockpit, Dryden said he buzzed the base north of Detroit where he had been stationed after the war.

In his book, he writes that air traffic controllers, perched 75 feet above the ground, looked down on his plane as he passed. His demonstration got him court-martialed.