NORTH VIETNAM TRIED TO EXPLOIT AMERICAN RACISM WITH POWS. IT DIDN’T WORK (Fred Cherry)

Air Force Maj. Fred V. Cherry, the pilot of an F-105D Thunderchief shot down by anti-aircraft fire on Oct. 22, 1965, was sitting in a dark 10-by-12-foot cell in North Vietnam. His left foot was wrapped in a cast and his left arm in a sling. Suddenly the cell door opened, and a guard ushered in another prisoner of war, Navy Lt. Porter Alexander Halyburton, a radar intercept officer on a two-seater F-4B Phantom II hit by anti-aircraft fire on Oct. 17, 1965. Cherry was the first African American service member captured in North Vietnam, while Halyburton came from a middle-class Southern family that employed Black servants.

A prison guard ordered Halyburton: “You must take care of Cherry.”

Neither man knew what to make of the other. Cherry, 37, explained that he was an Air Force major who flew an F-105. Halyburton, 24, found that hard to believe as most Blacks he knew worked as laborers. He had never met an African American who outranked him. Cherry didn’t believe his new cellmate was American. He presumed that Halyburton was a Frenchman left over from France’s colonial rule, which ended in 1954, and most likely worked for the North Vietnamese as a spy.

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