Col. Fred Cherry (1928-2016)
Colonel Fred Vann Cherry was a Suffolk-born Air Force fighter pilot, whose plane was downed by enemy fire in 1965 during the Vietnam War. Cherry was the first and highest ranking Black U.S. officer held as a prisoner of war. Porter Halyburton, a young Navy pilot, was a white southerner imprisoned with Cherry in the same cell. Captors hoped that the 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 strong friendship emerged. After seven years as a prisoner of war, Cherry was released from captivity in 1973. After Vietnam, Cherry attended the National War College and was assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency, before he retired from the Air Force with over 30 years of service in September 1981. Following his retirement from active duty, President Ronald Reagan commissioned Cherry to serve on the Korean War Veterans Memorial Advisory Board. Cherry was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in 2016; in the fall of 2018, the Col. Fred Cherry Middle School was opened in his honor in Suffolk.