Gruters reminds Memorial Day crowd of price of freedom
Guest speaker Guy Gruters, former prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, told a large crowd present at Monday's Memorial Day Service which was held at the local Veterans Memorial, that there is no way to describe the emotion of witnessing 170 body bags lined up on a runway in preparation for shipment back to the United States.
"They were people like us," said Gruters. "The stench was terrible. I experienced that and said, 'boy, what a price we pay for the freedom to be here.'"
For five and a half years, Gruters paid a supreme price for the freedom of Americans. He was imprisoned as a POW in a little 24 x 7 foot cell with no windows, no air conditioning and no heating system in the winter.
"In the summer it was over 100 degrees. We spent our time laying on the floor in front of the crack under the door trying to get some air," recalled Gruters. "During the winter we would literally shiver for weeks at a time.
"All during this time interrogation was going on. You would never know whether you were going to come back to your cell or not," continued Gruters, of his living conditions in a POW camp. "Over 3,200 shot down over North Vietnam were never rescued."
Gruters said that for the first six months of his tortured imprisonment, he was filled with hatred, which he referred to as, "the worst sin of all."
"After six months I started praying instead of hating," Gruters said. "John McKean was next to me for two and a half years."
After receiving a degree in engineering science from the Air Force Academy and a master’s degree in astronautical engineering from Purdue University, he went through pilot training and gunnery school and volunteered for Vietnam. There, he spent more than five of his six years as a POW.
During his flight operations as a Forward Air Controller over 10 months, he flew more than 400 combat missions. During those missions he was shot down twice; it was after the second shooting that he was taken to the prison camp.
His decorations include more than 30 combat awards, with two Silver Stars, two DFCs, two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star in Valor, the POW Medal, a Presidential Unit Citation, 20 Air Medals, plus numerous other decorations.
Also at Monday's Memorial Service, Decatur Mayor John Schultz and Berne Mayor Bill McKean jointly unveiled new names on the Memorial Wall, Specialist Nicholas Taylor and Phillip C. Jenkins.
For the first time in many years, the service was an all-county event, hosted by American Legion Post 468, Berne, which made the arrangements for Gruters' appearance, American Legion Post 43 of Decatur, VFW Post 6236 of Decatur and VFW Post 6751 of Geneva.
"Again our nation has assembled to honor its heroic dead," said Commander Les Wagner of Post 468 in Berne. "A thousand battles of land, sea and air echo the glory of their valiant deeds. Under the quiet sod, or beneath the murmuring waves, their bodies sleep in peace.
"Comrades, on this Memorial Day, let us pledge ourselves anew to patriotic service," continued Wagner. "Let us make ourselves the friend and brother, son and father, of those who will not see their own again in mortal flesh. Let us grasp with fearless hands the American Flag so nobly born before, and like those others, plant it always on the battlements of righteousness."
Gruters credited the power of prayer for the strength to make it through the 60 plus months in the prison setting. He noted that each Sunday at 12 noon, the more than 300 men in the camp would recite the Lord's Prayer, 23rd Psalm and Pledge of Allegiance.
Gruters said that during interrogation, North Vietnamese officials threatened those who would participate in the service.
"We said that as long as one person was alive, the service would continue," said Gruters. "They let us have the service after that.
"Christian soldiers make the best soldiers," continued Gruters. "No one ever fought like a Christian fought. We are surrounded by heroes, we are surrounded by Christians."
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