POWs recall bond in memoir of war

Book tells the story of a friendship that transcends racial boundaries.
Friday, May 28, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:05 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 5, 2008

James Hirsch, a 1984 MU graduate and former journalist for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, recently published “Two Souls Indivisible: The Friendship That Saved Two POWs” in Vietnam in time for the celebration of Memorial Day.

The book recognizes the bond that occurred among the men in the prisoner-of-war camps of North Vietnam.

It also recognizes the bond of two men held by captors. These men believed their racial differences would break them, but instead, the differences brought Fred Cherry and Porter Halyburton together to unite against one enemy, to survive their ordeal mentally and physically and tocome back home.

“Yes, men and women who are fighting the war and who struggle to come together in a very close friendship,” Hirsch said.

He also said that is one reason why the military has successfully become a racially integrated institution.

Hirsch said he wants readers to take away from the book “the power of human spirit to survive hardship.”

It’s a story about two men from “completely different walks of life and overcome the differences that divide them,” Hirsch said.

Having been in solitary confinement for some time, Halyburton was to be moved to a different cell, one which his captors threatened would be much worse.

“I’d hear someone jangling keys at night, and that meant they were coming to get you,” said Halyburton, a former Navy officer.

However, his captors’ idea of worse conditions was making a white Southerner share a cell with a black man, Air Force officer Fred Cherry.

Of the seven and a half years the men spent as prisoners of war, they shared a cell for just eight months, but it was enough to forge a lifelong friendship.

Cherry said any of the soldiers would have cared for him in his time of need after his F-105 crashed 40 miles north of Hanoi. “But,” Cherry said, “it meant a lot to Halyburton that he could help me.”

Cherry, the only black senior officer in the camp at the time, said he had more to live up to than the other men because his actions would reflect his entire race.

“I had more to protect,” he said.

Cherry withstood endless hours of torture, always remaining loyal to his men and country, while fighting the stereotype that blacks in the military lacked courage.

Today, Halyburton and Cherry still keep in touch.

Halyburton, or “Hally” as Cherry calls him, is a professor at a Navy war college in Rhode Island.

Cherry owns a management company in Virginia and likes to golf.

Both say they don’t take life for granted anymore.

Cherry and Halyburton will be introduced at the air show at noon on Saturday.

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