Cherry still inspires

Published 9:19 pm Monday, July 22, 2019

The CYBER Hawks STEM Club at Col. Fred Cherry Middle School, if history repeats itself, is going to go far.

As one of Suffolk’s newest schools, the school, and therefore the STEM Club, have completed only one full school year. So, you might ask, how exactly history is going to repeat itself with the club.

We look to Col. Fred Cherry himself.

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Fred Vann Cherry, a Suffolk native — like many of the participants in the CYBER Hawks STEM Club — attended school in Suffolk and graduated from Virginia Union University. He enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Training Program of the U.S. Air Force and was commissioned a second lieutenant. He received his wings in 1952.

He flew more than 100 combat missions in the Korean War, but it was his actions in the Vietnam War for which he would come to be known.

Cherry was flying an F-105 Thunderbird over Vietnam on Oct. 22, 1965, when he was shot down and captured by the Vietnamese. His grievous injuries were never treated properly. For more than seven years, he was a prisoner of war — much of it spent in solitary confinement and enduring daily torture. The Vietnamese mistakenly believed that Cherry, a black man, and another prisoner of war, a white man named Porter Halyburton, would hate each other if housed together, but the two developed a friendship that each would later credit with saving their lives.

Cherry later retired from the Air Force highly decorated and passed away in 2016.

Fast forward to 2019, and, like Cherry, the CYBER Hawks are soaring.

The acronym stands for Cherry Youth in Basic Engineering and Robotics. While Cherry was every bit a military man, the components of STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — were the things carrying his plane into the air.

The members of this club are modeling Cherry’s problem-solving, resilience and teamwork as they get the job done on their projects, and we’re proud of them.

The club is looking for donations in order to allow the students to participate in more competitions.

Visit to make a donation.