Colonel Fred V. Cherry, U.S. Air Force (Ret.)

Ex-POW, Vietnam

“My seven and a half years as a prisoner of war (POW) in North Vietnam will always have an impact on my life. I survived the pain, torture, isolation, loneliness, and hopelessness through my faith in God, family, country, fellow prisoners, and self. I relied on my Christian faith to get me through the toughest times. I was thankful for my Christian upbringing and the values which I had been taught by my family, elders, and teachers. When all hope seemed to fade and creep away, my faith would grasp the fading hope and reel it back within my reach. Without the sound values deeply imbedded in me, my performance as an American fighting man in the hands of the enemy would have been miserable and so would my ability to face myself in a mirror today.

“We must continue to teach our young people the sound values which have been the foundation for all great people and nations. Our youth are our future, and the survival of our nation will depend on their leadership. We must develop leaders with unwavering character, integrity, honesty, moral character, and love. Young Americans—have faith, set your goals high, and aspire to be the best that you can be. Build your foundation on the values that have made great men, women, and nations.”

I am an authentic American citizen of Native American and African heritage. I grew up in a rural area of Virginia, near Suffolk, the youngest of eight children. There were four boys and four girls. We were a very close family. It seemed everyone in the neighborhood was like a family. The neighbors felt responsible to help rear and raise everyone else’s kids. My family was a religious family so we were in the Baptist church every Sunday. All during my youth I was taught what was right and what was wrong, and I was expected to always do what was right.

I was very young when I first had a desire to fly. During WWII, my home was near a Navy auxiliary base that was used to practice carrier land-ings on a regular runway. As a young boy, I would often watch these planes and my desire to become a pilot grew. About the same time, the Tuskegee Airmen shipped to Italy and North Africa. The story of these heroes only increased my desire to fly, although my family always thought and maybe hoped I would become a doctor.

After high school I went to college and I took all the tests to see if I could join the Air Force and become a pilot. I was accepted, then enlisted in the Air Force, awaited assignment to flight training, completed my training and was commissioned a second lieutenant. In a short period of time I found myself flying combat missions in Korea and flew over 50 combat sorties during the Korean War.

After the Korean War, I remained in the Air Force and seven years later I was assigned to Japan for five years. In 1965 I was flying combat missions over North Vietnam. I was flying a F-105 Thunder Chief out of Thailand when I was shot down in October of 1965. When my aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire, the cockpit began to fill with smoke. The plane exploded and I ejected at about 400 feet at over 600 miles an hour. In the process of ejection, I broke my left ankle, my left wrist, and crushed my left shoulder. I was captured immediately upon landing by Vietnamese militia and civilians. Thus began my seven and a half years as a prisoner of war. I experienced some very brutal treatment. I spent 702 days in solitary confinement, the longest period of time was for 53 weeks. At one time I was either tortured or in punishment for 93 straight days. During my life I have certainly experienced some memorable times. I believe good conquers evil, and that there is no substitute for honor, integrity, love and faith. I am convinced that faith in God, country, and our fellow man and in one’s self will help to overcome any situation and the toughest of times.

I know that the faith in God, love and respect for my fellow man that my parents and family instilled in me during my youth carried me through some very difficult years as a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam. I was always taught to love and respect others and forgive those who mistreat, scorn or persecute me. Righteousness will prevail and evil will be overcome. That same love, honor, integrity, respect, faith and will to forgive have always guided me in every endeavor and walk of life. They have allowed me to overcome the damages of discrimination, Jim Crow, and the social and economic barriers associated with growing up a poor dirt farmer. We have choices to make in life. We need to be concerned that we make the right choices. I strongly advocate that every choice we make be based on some standard. My standard for making decisions is based on doing what is right, or what some might call, doing the right thing. I use as my embedded standard: honor, integrity, faith in God and country and love. Believe that right will prevail over wrong. Know that honor, integrity, faith in God and country, respect and love will set you free.