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Congressional Medal of Honor Recipients: Austin McKenzie - Jamaican/Cuban; Major Victor Terrelonge - Jamaican

As we gear up for the release of the much anticipated movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, Red Tails, we can't forget that the history of the Tuskegee Airmen includes men of Caribbean heritage. There were Tuskegee Airmen from Barbados, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and other Caribbean islands.

(Pictured: Congressional Medal of Honor Recipients: Austin McKenzie - Jamaican/Cuban; Major Victor Terrelonge - Jamaican - Photo from http://www.199armytour.com/)

Many have passed away, but as Caribbean Americans we should remember, and teach our children, that much of American and African American history is our history too. Since so many of the Tuskegee Airmen have passed away, and to our kids, it is ancient history (my youth is officially "back in the day" according to my children, and every time I talk about a historical figure, they immediately ask if they are dead yet), when you take them to see Red Tails, if it is age appropriate for your children, let them know that the present day actors in the movie also have Caribbean heritage.  Cuba Gooding, Jr's grandfather is from Barbados, Tristan Wilds' mother is from the Dominican Republic, and Andre Royo is Cuban.

Red Tails opens on January 20th, and has several African American and West Indian members of the cast, and crew.  African American and Caribbean American children and families will definitely be able to connect with this part of American history.

I was going to support the movie and go see it anyway, but now I have a new reason to feel connected to it.

Here are a few quick facts about some of the men of Caribbean descent who served as Tuskegee Airmen.

Cuba Gooding, Jr's grandfather is from Barbados, Tristan Wilds' mother is from the Dominican Republic, and Andre Royo is Cuban American

(photo still from Lucasfilm)

Dr. Albert Forsythe: b. 1897- d. 1986

In 1933, Dr. Forsythe and C. Alfred Anderson became the first black pilots to complete a cross-country flight, traveling from Bader Field in Atlantic City, N.J., to Los Angeles.

The flight, along with trips to Montreal and the Caribbean in 1934, was made in an attempt to break down the color barrier in aviation. At that time, the only place that would train blacks to fly was a school in Phildelphia, Dr. Forsythe recalled in a 1984 interview.

Dr. Forsythe stopped flying in 1935 to carry on his medical practice in Atlantic City and, later, in Newark. He retired in 1977.

He was born in Nassau, the Bahamas, and came to the United States in 1912 to study architecture at Tuskegee Institute. He earned his M.D. at McGill University Medical School in Montreal. (Source: NY Times)

Read more about Dr. Albert Forsythe here... Caribbean Role Models for Our Children: Dr. Albert E. Forsyth

Lt. Colonel Charles W. Dryden (USAF-Retired): b. 1920 - d. 2008

Memoirs of a Tuskeegee Airman - Charles DrydenCharles Walter Dryden was born on September 16, 1920 to Jamaican parents Charles Levy Dryden and Violet Buckley Dryden. Dryden recalls in his book, A-Train: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman, how at two years of age, he would call call out, “Air’pwane! Airpwane! and tearing paper into bits and throwing them into the air to tell the world he wanted to fly airplanes.” After many setbacks and tribulations, he did fly airplanes, living out his dream. Then he lived to write about living out that dream, and later, with a renaissance of his career, enjoyed the celebrity his stellar career afforded him.

Following graduation from NYC’s Peter Stuyvesant High School, he earned a BA in Political Science from Hofstra University and later earned a MA in Public Law and Government from Columbia University. In August, 1941 he was selected for Aviation Cadet Training at the Tuskegee Army Flying School in Alabama. He was commissioned as a 2nd Lt on April 29, 1942 in a class of only three graduates. His was the second class of black pilots to graduate in the history of the U.S. Army Air Corps. He served in the famed 99th Pursuit Squadron, later the 332 Fighter Group, which served in North Africa, Sicily and Italy during World War II. The Tuskegee Airmen broke the Army’s ban against black pilots serving in aviation units and established an outstanding record of performance in bomber escort cover and combat during World War II. On June 9, 1943, then Lt. Dryden in his P-40 nicknamed “A-Train” led a fight of six pilots engaging enemy fighter aircraft in aerial combat over Pantelleria, Sicily. It was the first time in aviation history black pilots of the U.S. Army Air Corp engaged in combat. Dryden’s career covered 22 years and also included combat missions in Korea, duty assignments in Japan, Germany and ten different bases in the United States. He also served as an Air Science professor at Howard University and retired in 1962 as a Command pilot with 4,000 hours flying time.

He was on the board of directors of the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame, a member of the Atlanta Metro Lions Club, and Quality Living Services, the Atlanta Chapter-Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.. He helped found the Atlanta chapter in 1978, served as president, and twice as vice and national convention chairman in 1980 and 1995. He was inducted into the Honorable Orders of the Daedalians, the Kentucky Colonels and the Palmetto Gentlemen of South Carolina, the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame. In March 2007, President Bush conferred the Congressional Gold Medal on Lt. Col. Dryden and all Tuskegee Airmen. He was often a speaker to youth and college students encouraging them to seek careers in military and civilian aviation.

He was eulogized the Reverend Andrew Young, former Mayor of Atlanta and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Colonel Dryden and his bride of 32 years, Marynal Morgan Dryden, never stopped living life to the fullest.

(Press Release from FirstClass Inc.)