Home : News : News

Retired master sergeant attains martial arts pinnacle

By Robert Goetz | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | July 27, 2017

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas — Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Harold Cherry admitted there was not a lot to do when he was growing up in the projects in Chesapeake, Va., in the 1960s.

But seeing Bruce Lee’s martial arts mastery on the ‘60s TV series “The Green Hornet” provided him with a role model to emulate and kick-started an interest that continued through his Air Force career and beyond.

More than 50 years later – after achievements such as starting the Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Karate Club and winning numerous competitions – Cherry’s accomplishments in a discipline that made Lee an icon have earned him induction into the United States Martial Arts Hall of Fame.

Surrounded by his wife, Carolynn, son Harold III and close friends, Cherry was named “Competitor of the Year” during his induction ceremony July 22 at the Hilton San Antonio Airport Hotel.

“Being inducted into the United States Martial Arts Hall of Fame is a reward of a lifetime,” he said. “To have my name floating around with some of the great ones is very humbling. It is a great honor to have this award presented to me.”

Cherry, who grew up in a single-parent household, said his mother, Maude, had no issue with his interest in the martial arts.

“My mother thought it was wonderful,” he said. “She said always do whatever makes you happy.”

After his exposure to the martial arts through Bruce Lee’s character and the John Wayne movie “The Green Berets,” Cherry said he looked for a four-leaf clover in his yard, placed it in his Bible and made a wish to join the Army, go to Japan to study karate and become a Green Beret.

Cherry did not join the Army or become a Green Beret, but he did enlist in the Air Force in 1970 after participating in his high school’s Air Force Junior ROTC program and studied Shotokan karate when he was assigned to Okinawa, Japan, four years later.

After he left Okinawa, Cherry, who chose the civil engineering career path as an electrician, went to Hill AFB, where his interest in martial arts intensified.

He founded the Hill AFB Karate Club in 1979 and earned his first-degree black belt in tae kwon do, Jhoon Rhee style, in 1982. He was subsequently granted first- and second-grade black belts from the United States Karate Association.

Cherry said he did not initially want to teach, but a black belt instructor told him his students were interested in what he was doing during his workouts at Hill AFB. The instructor asked him to teach a class, but Cherry was reluctant to do so.

“I was afraid of failure,” he said. “But once I started teaching, I couldn’t let my students, my commander and myself down.”

His karate club excelled, winning more than 400 trophies in form and fighting, and so, too, did Cherry, becoming a two-time Amateur Athletic Union regional winner and one of the top-ranked lightweight competitors in Utah in addition to other accomplishments.

Cherry, who has maintained a positive attitude throughout life, said teaching made him a better martial artist.

“As a teacher, you have to study and stay on top of your art,” he said.

From Utah, Cherry’s career path took him to the Republic of Korea, where he studied other martial arts styles. His Air Force career ended in 1993, but his civil service career began just a few years later at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland and continued at JBSA-Randolph, where he retired in 2013.

Although he is retired, Cherry, whose nickname is “Bro” because he was a “brother to everyone” at Hill AFB, continues an active lifestyle as a personal free-style martial arts instructor and vinyasa yoga teacher at JBSA-Randolph.

He attributes his successes in life – as a martial artist, Air Force NCO, Department of Defense civilian and family man – to his Air Force career.

“If it hadn’t been for the Air Force,” Cherry said, “none of this would have happened.”