It is Memorial Day, where we remember those that have served and died for our country so that we can be free. It is more than attending a race and drinking copious amounts of alcohol combined with grilled meats. It is also a time of reflection. Many from Purdue have served with distinction, but few have had to go through what Guy Gruters went through.
Gruters is from New Jersey, where he grew up fishing, hunting, and camping. He was an Eagle Scout that won acceptance to the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he graduated at the top of his Engineering Science class .His time at Purdue was brief, but productive, as he breezed through earning a Masters in Astronautical Engineering in less than a year.
Unfortunately for him, his military service was during the Vietnam War. He went through flight school before serving as a co-pilot in an F-100 Super Sabre Fighter. While serving as co-pilot he was shot down twice. The first time was less than a mile offshore from North Vietnam where helicopter crews had to rescue him under heavy fire.
His second shoot-down was not quite as pleasant. On December 20, 1967 Gruters was shot down over North Vietnam with Colonel Robert R. Craner. After making a parachute landing both men were capture and were taken the infamous Hoa Lo Prison, a.k.a., The Hanoi Hilton.
Hoa Lo loosely translates as "Hell Hole", and that is a polite description. It was originally built by rench colonists in the late 1800s and it served as a central POW camp for Americans captured by Norht Vietnamese forces. The conditions were brutal. The food was poor, the conditions were ridiculously unsanitary, and there small issue of torture by North Vietnamese guards. Common forms were rope bindings, irons, beatings, and prolonged solitary confinement, which violated the Geneva Convention.
North Vietnamese forces tried to get American servicemen to criticize our government and earn propaganda points. Most prisoners were pushed to the breaking point of making false confessions against the U.S., and the torture was pretty much unending. Gruters spent over five years there before being released in 1973 as part of Operation Homecoming, which released 591 American POWs through negotiations.
Gruters returned home to a country that never sought war crimes charges forwhat he had to endure, but his perseverance in the face of brutal conditions has led to a career as a Motivational Speaker. He flew over 400 combat missions and has over 30 combat awards before he left the military at the rank of Captain. His testimony led to the awarding of the Medal of Honor for Lance Sijon, who was shot down and captured along with Gruters. Sijon died in captivity in 1968.
The story of Captain Gruters at least has a happy ending, according to his website:
Guy returned home to his wife Sandy and his daughters Dawn and Sheri, who he had been separated from for six years. Sandy Gruters graduated from Florida State University with a BA in Education. After Guy convinced her to marry him, they were blessed with Dawn and Sheri before Guy left for Vietnam. While her husband was in prison camp, Sandy traveled the world fighting for his release and at the same time took care of two young children. Her message, with the other POW wives and families, was one of education about the inhumane treatment of our captured soldiers. Sandy also traveled with her children to many pilgrimage sites, always praying as a family for Guy's safe return. Her experiences as the mother of a family under uniquely difficult conditions and her grace in handling those situations provide an example of an ideal response to uncertainty and fear.
On this day we thank Captain Gruters and all who served this country.