In July of 1944, Lt. Col Charles W. Dryden was court martialed and dismissed from the United States Air Force. The dismissal of a trained and experienced pilot from active duty during wartime had to reflect some pretty serious offense, wouldn't you think? In truth, Frodo learned, Lt. Col. Dryden had led a flight of his fellow pilots on a low-level "buzz" of the military base at Walterboro, South Carolina, in May of that year.
"Say what?," Frodo asked, "You were court martialed for buzzing the base? Was somebody injured or was there property damage because of what you did?"
"No, none at all," said Lt. Col. Charles W. Dryden, Retired.
"Well I have to ask, were you drunk, or just stupid for doing something serious enough in somebody's mind to get yourself court martialed?," said Frodo. "No Mr. Frodo, I knew exactly what I was doing, and I deserved punishment, although the punishment was considerably more severe at that moment than I had anticipated," added Frodo's luncheon guest.
"Mr. Frodo, when I volunteered to serve my country and to fly against the enemy, I was told that people like me were not capable of such responsibility. Even today, Mr. Frodo," as tears welled in his eyes, "it hurts so very much," and he began to cry. Frodo put his hand on the gentleman's shoulder and told him what he already knew.
"Chuck" Dryden was one of those group of men now known as the "Tuskegee Airmen." Among his peers he was dubbed with the moniker "A Train," for his fondness for a certain song of the time. In later years Denzel Washington would play the part of "A Train" in the movie about the first Americans who happened to be black that were trained to fly in defense of the Shire.
He suffered a stroke some time ago and this 89 year-old doesn't get much use out of his right arm anymore. He laughed with Frodo when Frodo told him that his eldest son and Frodo shared the same birth date, and that it might be possible that they were switched in the delivery room.
"I owe you an answer to your question Mr. Frodo," he said. "I can tell you that I organized my squadron to buzz the field in protest of the fact that as black men we were required to sit in the balcony, separate from all those with white skin, at the camp movie theatre. Mr. Frodo, that included the German Prisoners."
Frodo was aghast, "You mean to tell me that the Nazi prisoners were given preferred seating over American officers, who happened to be black?"
Frodo has thought often of the man he met that day, and how he smiled when he heard Frodo say, "Sir, I don't even know where Walterboro South Carolina is, but I am sure that it isn't too far removed from the Shire. It is likely that some day Frodo will pass through that community. When that happens, I trust you will not be surprised to hear about a middle-aged Hobbit who stopped his motorcar alongside the roadsign welcoming travelers to that community, who unzipped his zipper and unceremoniously pissed all over that roadsign. It will be as close as I can come to buzzing that airfield with you."
Inside his copy of Lt. Col. Dryden's autobiography the following is handwritten, "To my friend Mr. Frodo, God Bless America, Always."
Lt. Col. Dryden was pardoned on appeal, and continued to fly in defense of his native land. Used mostly as escorts for bombers flying over European targets, the "Tuskegee Airmen" did not lose a single bomber to enemy fire.
Walterboro, South Carolina, is near Hilton Head, and there is a moistness to the welcome sign on the road just outside town.