New school named after Cherry

Published 9:55 pm Thursday, February 9, 2017

The new middle school in North Suffolk will be named after a Suffolk native who was held prisoner of war in Vietnam for more than seven years.



The School Board voted unanimously Thursday evening to name the school Col. Fred Cherry Middle School, honoring the veteran who died last year at the age of 87.

The name was the recommendation of a six-member naming committee that included Martina Carter, Barbara Copeland, Tara Moore, Charles Saunders, Diane Foster and Trisha James.

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The Cherry name received four votes on the committee. The other proposed names, Maritime Middle School and Northern Shores Middle School, received one vote each.

The board had to waive its own policy that requires a deceased individual to be dead for 10 years before a school is considered to be named after them.

“I’m glad to see us recognizing the committee recommendation,” said Vice Chairman Enoch Copeland. “These people worked hard, and they took that time.”

Naming the school after Cherry was also pushed by several citizens not on the committee, including Robert Stephens and Lisa Cross. Both spoke during Thursday’s meeting.

Cross implored the board to imagine the opportunities that would come with naming the school after a military veteran in a heavily military area. Students of military families and black students would be especially impacted, she said.

“This is especially important to the young people in their most formative years, which is middle school,” Stephens said.

Trisha James, one of the members of the committee, said she was happy the board took the committee’s recommendation.

“I’m excited about having a positive role model for the students,” she said after the decision.

Col. Cherry’s daughter, Cynthia Cherry-Leon, said in October her family supports the idea of naming the school after her father.

“I think it’s amazing,” she said. “I think it’s rightly deserved. He was an amazing man, an amazing patriot. He loved his country and literally would have died for his country. He loved Suffolk.”

Cherry was the first and highest-ranking black officer to become a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He was shot down Oct. 22, 1965, at the age of 37.

Cherry’s friendship with a white prisoner of war, Lt. j.g. Porter Halyburton — whom the Vietnamese put together mistakenly thinking that racial tension would break them — became the subject of a book, “Two Souls Indivisible: The Friendship that Saved Two POWs in Vietnam,” by James S. Hirsch.

Cherry was freed Feb. 12, 1973. He went on to retire on Sept. 1, 1981, after attending the National War College and being assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency and having served more than 30 years in the Air Force. He later founded his own engineering company.

Cherry’s awards and decorations include two Purple Hearts, the Silver Star, the Air Force Cross, the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Bronze Stars with Combat V and the Prisoner of War Medal.