Fred V. Cherry

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Fred Vann Cherry
Born(1928-03-24)March 24, 1928
Suffolk, Virginia, U.S.
DiedFebruary 16, 2016(2016-02-16) (aged 87)
Washington D.C., U.S.
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branchUnited States Air Force
Years of service1952–1981
Unit58th Fighter-Bomber Wing
35th Tactical Fighter Squadron
Battles/warsKorean War
Vietnam War
AwardsAir Force Cross
Silver Star
Legion of Merit (2)
Distinguished Flying Cross (2)
Bronze Star Medal (2)
Purple Heart (2)
Meritorious Service Medal
Air Medal (3)

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.

Military career[edit]

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]

Korean War[edit]

Cherry was soon serving in the Korean War, where he flew F-84 Thunderjets on more than 100 combat missions, with the 58th Fighter-Bomber Wing, which was stationed at Taegu Air Base in South Korea[3][4]

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] Cherry told the story of his POW's experience to Wallace Terry.[6]

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]

Later life[edit]

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.[7]

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 as Director of SilverStar Consulting.[8]


Cherry died of cardiac disease on February 16, 2016 at a hospital in Washington, D.C.[4] He is buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.


A school named after Cherry, Colonel Fred Cherry Middle School, scheduled to open in the Fall of 2018, will seat 800 students. It is the fifth and newest middle school in Suffolk Public Schools in Suffolk, Virginia.[9]

In media[edit]


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]

A chapter of Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War (1984) by Wallace Terry is devoted Cherry's experience in Vietnam and afterward.[6]


Cherry was featured in the documentary, Tom Hanks Presents: Return With Honor, the story of Vietnam fighter pilots held as prisoners of war.[14]

Awards and Decorations[edit]

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.[8][15][16]

Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Silver star
Silver star
Silver star
Bronze star
Silver oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
USAF Command Pilot Badge
Air Force Cross Silver Star Legion of Merit
w/ 1 bronze oak leaf cluster
Distinguished Flying Cross
w/ 1 bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze Star
w/ Valor device and 1 bronze oak leaf cluster
Purple Heart
w/ 1 bronze oak leaf cluster
Meritorious Service Medal Air Medal
w/ 2 bronze oak leaf clusters
Air Force Commendation Medal
Air Force Presidential Unit Citation
w/ 1 bronze oak leaf cluster
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award Prisoner of War Medal
Combat Readiness Medal Army Good Conduct Medal National Defense Service Medal
w/ 1 service star
Korean Service Medal
w/ 3 bronze campaign stars
Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal Vietnam Service Medal
w/ 3 silver and 1 bronze campaign stars
Air Force Longevity Service Award
w/ 1 silver and 1 bronze oak leaf clusters
Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation
w/ Palm and Frame
United Nations Korea Medal Vietnam Campaign Medal Republic of Korea War Service Medal

Air Force Cross citation[edit]

Colonel Fred Vann Cherry
U.S. Air Force
Prisoner of War (North Vietnam)
Date of Action: August 15 - November 15, 1967

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Colonel Fred Vann Cherry, United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam from 15 August 1967 to 15 November 1967. During this period, Colonel Cherry demonstrated his extremely strong personal fortitude and maximum persistence in the face of severe enemy harassment and torture, suffering critical injuries and wounds. Through his extraordinary heroism and willpower, in the face of the enemy, Colonel Cherry reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.


  1. ^ Agnew, Tracy (February 17, 2016). "Former POW Cherry dies". Suffolk News-Herald.
  2. ^ "Biography of Fred V. Cherry". P.o.W. Network. Retrieved March 26, 2009.
  3. ^ a b "Fred V. Cherry". Retrieved 21 February 2016.
  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". Military Times. Retrieved March 26, 2012.
  6. ^ a b Terry, Wallace (1984). Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War. Random House. ISBN 978-0-394-53028-4.
  7. ^ Franklin, Ben A. (April 25, 1982). "FORMER P.O.W. WHOSE WIFE TOOK $121,998 REJECTS $38,449". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 February 2016.
  8. ^ a b "Founding Partners & President". SilverStar. Retrieved March 26, 2009.
  9. ^ "New School Named After Cherry". Suffolk News Herald. 9 February 2017.
  10. ^ "Review: Two Souls Indivisible: Surviving Prison Camp". NPR. Retrieved March 26, 2012.
  11. ^ "Was Vietnam Worse Than What Americans Are Doing in Iraq?". CNN. Retrieved March 26, 2012.
  12. ^ "Discussion: Two Souls Indivisible". C-SPAN Video Library. Retrieved March 26, 2012.
  13. ^ "Davidson Will Host Kickoff for Book About Vietnam POW Experience". Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  14. ^ "Reviews: Return With Honor". SunTimes. Retrieved March 26, 2009.
  15. ^ "Colonel Fred V. Cherry Scholarship". Retrieved March 26, 2012.
  16. ^ "Fred V. Cherry". March 7, 2012. Retrieved March 26, 2012.