A wise inconsistency

Published 8:57 pm Friday, February 10, 2017

In the end, the policy did not matter, and that’s probably just the way the matter of how to name the new middle school in North Suffolk should have turned out all along.

The School Board on Thursday voted unanimously to name the city’s next middle school, currently under construction in the Northern Shores community, after a true war hero from Suffolk, the late Col. Fred V. Cherry. In doing so, the board followed the recommendation of a naming committee that had been charged with suggesting what to call the school, which is expected to open for classes in the fall of 2018.

The recommendation and the decision both were in contravention of a school-system policy that states a person must have been deceased at least 10 years before a school could be named in his honor.

Email newsletter signup


Hearing Cherry’s story, it would be hard to imagine someone more deserving of the honor he will receive by having this school bear his name.

A veteran of the wars in both Korea and Vietnam, when he was shot down over Vietnam in October 1965, the Suffolk native became the first and highest-ranking black officer to become a prison of war there. He was 37 at the time.

Cherry spent the next six and a half years as a POW, suffering greatly under Vietnamese torture. His captors placed Cherry in a cell with Lt. j.g. Porter Halyburton, a white man from North Carolina. Having heard of the racial clashes back in America, the Vietnamese hoped the two men would hate one another and that the racial tension would break them.

But things didn’t work that way. In fact, the two men became lifelong friends, and both have said that friendship helped them survive as POWs. Their story 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.

This is the kind of story youngsters in Suffolk need to hear. This is the kind of hero they need to emulate. This is the kind of man the city should honor, even if it meant going against a policy to do so.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” We’re glad School Board members recognized the foolishness that would have been served by maintaining the consistency of this policy this time.