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Former POW shares experiences with Airmen

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Angelique Perez
  • 18th Wing Public Affairs
Kadena Air Base welcomed a hero and former prisoner of war last week in commemoration of POW/MIA Remembrance Day Sept. 19. 

Retired Air Force Capt. Guy Gruters, a former F100-F Super Sabre pilot who was held captive in North Vietnam for more than five years spoke to Airmen in a variety of venues about his experiences and the reasons why Americans should never forget the sacrifices of POWs and those still missing in action. 

During the Vietnam War, Capt. Gruters and a fellow pilot were shot down Dec. 21,1967 and subsequently captured by the enemy. The two Airmen were taken to a small prison where they first encountered Air Force Medal of Honor winner, Capt. Lance P. Sijan. They were held there for about a week before being transported to the Hanoi Hilton. 

After a month in Hanoi, Capt. Gruters moved again to another prison camp where he spent nearly three years. During his more than five-year captivity he was held in five different prison camps. Through it all, he persevered. 

"The life-changing event for me in prison was really coming into a deep faith in God," said Capt. Gruters. "It took months and months for that to happen, but it made the last four years relatively easy because I had peace in my heart and I knew God was in control of everything, even there." 

"It was really, honestly prayer that got me through it," added Capt. Gruters. "You quickly exceed the capability of your body to resist, but the Lord gives you the strength to keep going no matter what the conditions look like. 

In addition to his faith, the Code of Conduct provided Capt. Gruters a set of guiding principles that guided his behavior, and that of his fellow prisoners during captivity. The Code, according to the captain, helped them all remember that they were still in the fight and gave them the discipline to work together as a team to get through their imprisonment. 

In December 1972, President Richard Nixon sent B-52s on bombing missions over Hanoi as part of Operation Linebacker II. The bombing put pressure on the North Vietnamese and brought them back to the negotiating table, with a cease fire being signed on January 23, 1973. Captain Gruters and his fellow POW's were released in March of 1973. 

"Luckily from my experience I was treated very well when I returned from Vietnam," said the captain. Today the Airmen and Soldiers are treated pretty well; I don't know what to attribute the difference to, but I think one of the things is that a lot of the Vietnam veterans are out there trying to make sure that happens." 

Capt. Gruters' wife Sandy went through her own trauma as she waited for her husband to come home from Vietnam. She stressed the importance of having a support structure for the families as well as the military member. Whatever the rank or job, there is a spouse or family member behind them, supporting them, said Mrs. Gruters. 

"Today's military is really reaching out to all the families much more so than they did in our era," she said, "and I'm so happy to see that because it really is a team effort. I see it here and I think it's wonderful." 

In his talks with service members here at Kadena and around the world, Capt. Gruters praises them for their service and for being willing to put their lives on the line for their country, their families and their fellow brothers and sisters in arms. At the same time, he encourages them to never forget those who have come before. 

"Remembrance Day means a million different things to me -- from a sense of pride in the men I served with and the sorrow for the people who have died," said Capt. Gruters. [It's also a] really great thanksgiving that the country and the military are doing such a wonderful job of honoring all of those people."