Sharing a Suffolk hero’s story

Published 5:23 pm Saturday, August 11, 2018

A Vietnam veteran, Suffolk native and the namesake of a new school debuting this fall will be the topic of a free book club session on Aug. 25.

The Col. Fred Cherry Book Club Meetup will be held on Aug. 25 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Morgan Memorial Library, 443 W. Washington St. Participants will discuss the book “Two Souls Indivisible” by author James Hirsch, which recounts Cherry’s experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam for more than seven years.

Advanced registration is required and registrants can receive a copy of the book while supplies last. Five copies were still available as of Thursday, according to Angie Sumner, community relations coordinator for Suffolk Public Library.

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Local history and genealogy coordinator LaSandra Adams will lead the session with a short video about Cherry, followed by a discussion of the book with light refreshments served. Adams said in a phone interview that those who have read the book but did not receive a library copy can still sign up the day of the event to participate and help raise awareness of his legacy.

“I want people to know who he was and what he did, and I thought this would be a good way of doing that,” she said.

The story recounts Cherry’s experience in a brutal POW camp. According to the book, it was there that the badly injured U.S. Air Force pilot and first black officer captured by the North Vietnamese met Porter Halyburton, the young, white navy flier from the American south who was his cellmate.

“Their captors hoped close quarters would inflame American-bred racial tensions and break both men. Instead, American integrity and honor flourished, and as Cherry was nursed back to health, a friendship grew strong,” the book states in its description of the bond that would carry these men through the war.

The book club will raise awareness of Cherry’s story ahead of the opening for the new Col. Fred Cherry Middle School on Burbage Drive. The two-story, 125,200-square-foot building will relieve overcrowding at John Yeates Middle School with more than 25 classrooms to accommodate about 800 students.

According to a February 2017 Suffolk News-Herald report, the School Board voted unanimously to name the school in honor him after his death in 2016. The board even waived its own policy that requires a deceased individual to be dead for 10 years before a school is considered to be named after them.

Cherry was released from the POW camp on Feb. 12, 1973, and retired on Sept. 1, 1981, after attending the National War College and being assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency, according to the report. He served more than 30 years in the Air Force and 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, according to the report.

“There aren’t many that are still living or live in Suffolk who know who Col. Cherry is. That’s why this is so important,” said Robert Stephens, one of the Suffolk citizens who pushed for the new school’s naming in 2017. “It’s about building the Cherry brand. We want every household to know who he was.”

Visit or search “The Colonel Fred Cherry Book Club Meetup” on Facebook for registration and other information.