Fred V. Cherry

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Fred Vann Cherry (March 24, 1928 – February 16, 2016)[1] was a Colonel and Command Pilot in the U.S. Air Force. A career fighter pilot, he served in the Korean War, the Cold War and the Vietnam War.[2]


Cherry was born March 24, 1928, in Suffolk, Virginia into a poor farming family. He attended racially segregated public schools there. In 1951, Cherry graduated from Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia.

On June 29, 1951, after his college graduation, Cherry enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Training Program of the U.S. Air Force, and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant. He was awarded his pilot wings at Webb Air Force Base in Texas on October 25, 1952.[3]

Cherry was soon serving in the Korean War, where he flew F-84 Thunderjets on more than 100 combat missions.[3][4] After his time in Korea, Cherry undertook a variety of flying and instructional assignments in Europe and the United States.[3]

Vietnam War[edit]

During a combat mission on October 22, 1965, Cherry's F-105 Thunderchief fighter-bomber was shot down over North Vietnam. Cherry ejected and landed with a broken ankle and wrist, and a crushed shoulder. He was immediately captured by North Vietnamese militia.[5]

Cherry was the first and highest ranking black officer among U.S. Prisoners of War during the Vietnam War. According to Cherry, his North Vietnamese captors wanted him to make public statements about racial intolerance in the United States, but he refused. As a result, Cherry spent 702 days in solitary confinement and was tortured or placed in punishment for 93 days in a row. Cherry's jailers placed U.S. pilot Ensign Porter Halyburton, a Southern white man, in Cherry's cell in the hopes that the two men would become antagonists. Instead, the two pilots helped each other to survive confinement and became very good friends. After seven years as a prisoner of war, Cherry was released from captivity on February 12, 1973[4]

Later career in Air force[edit]

After returning home, Cherry discovered that his wife, Shirley Brown, had taken all of his life savings after the Air Force declared him missing in action and started dating another man. Cherry started legal proceedings with the Air Force to have back salary and other payments returned to him.[4]

After Vietnam, Cherry attended the National War College, and was assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency. He retired from the Air Force with over 30 years of service on 1 September 1981.[4]

In 1982, the United States Court of Claims found the Air Force negligent in handling Cherry's military pay and awarded him $38,449 in compensation. At the time of the award, Cherry stated that he would contest the decision, saying that he wanted more of the $129,000 that his wife had received from the Air Force.[6]

Colonel Cherry's awards and decorations include the Air Force Cross, the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Bronze Stars with Combat V, two Purple Hearts, the Meritorious Service Medal, three Air Medals, the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Prisoner of War Medal, and two Presidential Unit Citations. Cherry also received the Award for Outstanding Service to the Military Community from the Tuskegee Airmen.[7][8][9]

Cherry’s life is the subject of the book, Two Souls Indivisible: The Friendship That Saved Two POWs in Vietnam, by James S. Hirsch,[10][11][12] author of Hurricane.[13] Cherry was also featured in the documentary, Tom Hanks Presents: Return With Honor, the story of Vietnam fighter pilots held as prisoners of war.[14]

Civilian career[edit]

Following his retirement from active duty, President Ronald Reagan commissioned Cherry to serve on the Korean War Veterans Memorial Advisory Board.

Cherry also served as the Director of Technical Support Services for E.H. White & Co., and as Marketing Manager for Data Transformation Corp. Most recently, Cherry has served as Chief Executive Officer for Cherry Engineering and Support Services and Director of SilverStar Consulting.[7]

Cherry died of cardiac disease on February 16, 2016 at a hospital in Washington, DC.[4]


  1. ^ Agnew, Tracy (February 17, 2016). "Former POW Cherry dies". Suffolk News-Herald. 
  2. ^ Biography of Fred V. Cherry, at P.o.W. Network; Retrieved March 26, 2009
  3. ^ a b c "Fred V. Cherry". Retrieved 21 February 2016.  External link in |website= (help)
  4. ^ a b c d e Barnes, Bart (February 20, 2016). "Fred Cherry, POW in North Vietnam for seven years, dies at 87". The Washington Post. Retrieved 20 February 2016. 
  5. ^ Fred Vann Cherry Bio, at Military Times Retrieved March 26, 2012
  6. ^ Franklin, Ben A. (April 25, 1982). "FORMER P.O.W. WHOSE WIFE TOOK $121,998 REJECTS $38,449". New York Times. Retrieved 21 February 2016. 
  7. ^ a b SilverStar Founding Partners & President, Retrieved March 26, 2009
  8. ^ Colonel Fred V. Cherry Scholarship, at Retrieved March 26, 2012
  9. ^ Fred V. Cherry, at Retrieved March 26, 2012
  10. ^ Two Souls Indivisible: Surviving Prison Camp, at NPR Retrieved March 26, 2012
  11. ^ Was Vietnam Worse Than What Americans Are Doing in Iraq?, at CNN Retrieved March 26, 2012
  12. ^ Two Souls Indivisible, at C-SPAN Video Library Retrieved March 26, 2012
  13. ^ Davidson Will Host Kickoff for Book About Vietnam POW Experience, Retrieved March 26, 2012
  14. ^ Return With Honor, at SunTimes Retrieved March 26, 2009