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The contributions of the Tuskegee Airmen will forever be embedded in the fabric of American history. Second Lt. Irma “Pete” Cameron Dryden—the only living nurse who provided care for the military unit—recently celebrated her 100th birthday, 11 Alive reported.

A centennial birthday celebration was hosted for Dryden in Marietta, Georgia on May 28. Adhering to social distancing measures, loved ones and individuals from the local community held signs, balloons and flowers and cheered for Dryden as she watched from her living room window. Dryden, a New York City native, graduated from Harlem Hospital School of Nursing in 1942. In 1943 she relocated to Alabama and enlisted in the military where she worked as a nurse and ended up marrying Charles Dryden who served as one of the airmen. The story behind their wedding—which was the first-ever Tuskegee military wedding—would later be featured in a book titled An Album of Memories: Personal Histories from the Greatest Generation penned by Tom Brokaw.

The Tuskegee Army Nurses Project—a platform designed to keep the legacies of former nurses who worked at the Tuskegee Army Air Field alive—detailed the obstacles the group of women faced. “The Tuskegee Airmen were not the only ones making history at Tuskegee Army Air Field (TAAF) in Tuskegee, Alabama, during the 1940s,” read a statement posted on the group’s website. “The nurses who served on the base had to fight gender as well as racial discrimination. The Department of the Army was dragging its feet on allowing women of any race into the Army Nurse Corps (ANC)–that is until the United States entered World War II and there was a shortage of nurses. Approximately 29 black nurses served at TAAF. The segregated Army had limited black ANC nurses to around 500 more or less during World War II. That was out of a total 50,000 Army Nurse Corps nurses who served during this war.”

In 2014, Dryden received a Congressional Gold Medal. Her journey has been a source of inspiration for many Black women in the military. “She has had a monumental impact on people and not even know that she did,” said a representative of the National Association of Black Military Women’s Atlanta chapter.


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