FRONTPAGE MAGAZINE — Fred Cherry, the African American U.S. Air Force pilot who spent seven years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, has passed away at 87. With all due respect to Joe Louis, Fred Cherry was the real Brown Bomber.
Born in Suffolk, Virginia, Fred Cherry experienced racial prejudice and segregation first hand but did not let it hold him back from achievement. He graduated from Virginia Union University in 1951 and joined the U.S. Air Force. A skilled pilot, Cherry would soon be flying combat missions over Stalinist North Korea.
In 1965 Cherry was flying an F-105 fighter-bomber over North Vietnam when he took anti-aircraft fire and his plane exploded. He bailed out, suffered major injuries, and fell captive to the enemy. The North Vietnamese thought they had a real find and threw Cherry in a cell with Porter Halyburton, a white pilot from North Carolina. The Vietnamese Communists hoped to stoke racial friction that would break down Cherry and make him a propaganda tool. The captors’ plan backfired.
Halyburton duly attended to Cherry’s wounds and watched over his black countryman around the clock. Cherry credited the white southerner with saving his life, and Halyburton thought Cherry had done the same for him. The two became lifelong friends but in captivity both faced a hard road. The Vietnamese Communists slapped Cherry into solitary confinement for 702 days and the pilot endured punishment and torture for 93 straight days. Before his release in 1973, Cherry racked up 2,671 days in captivity.