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Save a life; save a spirit

Terri Schlichenmeyer

Remember POW bracelets? For those too young to remember or those who haven’t seen the recently resurrected style, they were simple strips of aluminum or copper bent in a “C” shape. Each bracelet was engraved with the name and rank of a soldier, and below that, a date of loss. Some bracelets also had an indication of POW (Prisoner Of War) or MIA (Missing in Action) or both. The idea was to wear them until “your” soldier came home, and then you were supposed to return it to him or her. “Two Souls Indivisible” by James S. Hirsch (c. 2004, Houghton Mifflin) is the story of two of those former POWs, and how their friendship changed their lives.Porter Halyburton was a southern gentleman, born and raised in a small town in North Carolina. Halyburton was married with a baby daughter when he volunteered for duty aboard the Independence, and on one of his missions, he and his pilot were shot down over Vietnam. The pilot was killed. Halyburton was captured, and became one of the youngest POWs in Vietnam.Fred Cherry was born outside Suffolk, Virginia and was raised by his mother and his eldest sister. From the first moment he saw a plane go overhead, Cherry knew he wanted to fly and as soon as he was old enough, he joined the Air Force. Fred Cherry was black and had fought racism and segregation all his life, and though the pre-civil rights-era Air Force still had its racism, Cherry was known for his leadership and skill, and he quickly worked his way up the ranks. He married a girl he met while stationed in Montana, had four children, and was stationed in Japan when he was shot down over Vietnam.When Porter Halyburton was put in a prison cell with the badly injured Fred Cherry, he was puzzled to hear that his captors expected him to care for Cherry. Then reality dawned on both men: the Vietnamese thought that putting a white Southern man in charge of caring for a black man would be the worst kind of punishment for both. What they didn’t reckon was that Halyburton would save Cherry’s life and that Cherry would save Halyburton’s spirit. “Two Souls Indivisible” is a book that is filled with emotion, both soaring and crashing. The clever defiance of the American prisoners will make you laugh, despite yourself. Cherry’s ex-wife will infuriate you. The torture scenes will make you heartsick. And the incredible tenacity, stoicism, and bravery you’ll read about will make you shake your head in amazement and pride.Author James S. Hirsch has written a powerful and extraordinary story of two men who became one another’s salvation, though they were only cellmates for a short time. This book will leave a deep and lasting impression on you. Whether you supported the Vietnam War, avoided it, condemned it, or don’t remember it read it. By Terri Schlichenmeyer


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