FLORENCE — The horrors of captivity in a North Vietnamese prison weakened the spirits and wills of many American prisoners of war, but for two men from very different backgrounds, the trial by ordeal created a bond that remains strong today.
Porter Halyburton was a 24-year-old radar intercept officer onboard a Navy F4B Phantom fighter-bomber when he was shot down Oct. 17, 1965, and taken prisoner during the Vietnam War. The pilot did not survive the crash.
The North Carolina native had flown many combat missions from the USS Independence. He would spend the next seven-plus years as a prisoner of war in the infamous Hoa Lo Prison, better known at the Hanoi Hilton.
After being tortured in an effort to convince him to make anti-American statements, Halyburton, who is white, was placed in a filthy cell with Maj. Fred Cherry, a black pilot who was badly wounded. The North Vietnamese, knowing the racial tensions and violence that were taking place in the United States at that time, thought placing them in the same cell would create more misery and strife.
The strategy backfired.
Halyburton and Cherry survived, and were released in 1973 when the United States ended its direct involvement in Vietnam.
Halyburton will speak at 5 p.m. Monday at the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library. Copies of the book written about the years in captivity, "Two Souls Indivisible," will be the topic. Copies of the book will be available.
Halyburton, a lieutenant, took care of Cherry's wounds and helped him regain some of his strength. They soon bonded and became an inspiration for the other prisoners in the section of the prison known as "The Zoo." The racial divide that would have kept them separated back home melted away in the face of the brutality and appalling conditions they faced daily.
"In a season of thanksgiving, these are the things we should be thankful for," said Nancy Sanford, director of the library.
Halyburton went on to become a college professor, and Cherry retired from the Air Force as a colonel. Both were highly decorated after their release from North Vietnam.
There also is talk of using the book as the basis for a movie. The International Movie Database website lists it as in pre-production.