Breakfast backs Veterans Build effort
SCHERERVILLE – A U.S. soldier fights out of love for “the American family,” Guy Gruters told those gathered Friday at the annual Veterans Build Breakfast.
Gruters, a former pilot and POW in North Vietnam, was the special guest and speaker at the breakfast, held at Patrician Banquets and co-sponsored by the Northwest Veterans Action Council and Habitat for Humanity. The third annual breakfast was in support of the Hammond Veterans build and also to honor local veterans and active duty service members.
Gruters, a New Jersey native, graduate of the Air Force Academy and author, touched on what he believes is the success of Vietnam: It helped turn back the Soviet Union. “They went bankrupt,” he said, “Vietnam (and Afghanistan) did that. We stopped nuclear war. We stopped enslavement of (Asian peoples).”
Gruters completed more than 400 combat missions in Vietnam, eventually earning two silver stars, two Bronze stars for valor, two Purple Hearts and numerous other awards. He was shot down and captured on Dec. 20, 1967. Gruters was one of 590 surviving POWs released in 1973 during what was known as Operation Homecoming.
He talked about his military service, but also about his longtime captivity, which lasted more than five years. He was held alongside 2nd Lt. Lance Sijan, whom Gruters helped care for while in captivity.
Sijan died in Hoa Lo Prison, nicknamed “Hanoi Hilton” by American POWs, in 1968. Upon his own release in 1973 Gruters testified as to Sijan’s heroism. Sijan was ultimately awarded the Medal of Honor. The Lance P. Sijan award is named for him, and is given by the Air Force to individuals who demonstrate the highest qualities of leadership in their jobs and in their lives.
“The greatest love is to give your life for your country,” Gruters told a receptive audience at the breakfast. He praised the men he served with; stating he’d never met a coward. Gruters brought along a slide show which detailed via black and white drawings the conditions that the men lived in, and also some of the torture positions they had to endure.
“Torture was a way of life,” said Gruters, who spent time in six different prison camps before his release.
Gruters said his Christian faith and his fellow prisoners helped him get through it all. Prisoners, even though they were all kept in individual cells, devised a way to communicate via a tapping system. “It was like texting one word at a time,” he said of the communication method. Prisoners had to keep their method quiet because they’d been forbidden to communicate with one another and guards were always on the lookout for transgressors. Prisoners taught each other songs and poems via the tapping system, and Gruters estimated he learned the words to roughly 300 songs.