BEFORE THE WAR
Guy Gruters seemingly had it all. A young man raised in the Catholic faith, Guy graduated Summa Cum Laude, near the top of his class at the United States Air Force Academy. He then earned a Masters Degree at Purdue University in Astronautical Engineering in less than one year. Guy’s brother Terry, 3 years his junior and Guy’s best friend, has already also taken up residence at the Academy, where he has achieved All American status running track, following in Guy’s footsteps.
It is December 1967, Guy is happily married to his lovely young wife Sandy, they have two adorable little girls. The thing that most makes Guy Gruters stand out from others his age is that unlike them, Guy is a highly respected and highly decorated Air Force fighter pilot and has flown and is flying some of the most top secret and some of the most dangerous missions of the Vietnam War.
SHOT DOWN IN VIETNAM
On December 20, 1967, Guy is flying an incredibly risky mission over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in North Vietnam with Major Bob Craner. Guy is no stranger to the perils of low level flights over North Vietnam, having survived a shoot down only one month prior and having been rescued by the daring efforts of “Jolly Green Giant” rescue teams. Incredibly, Guy survived with a severe wrist injury but managed to wrangle a two week pass and was home in time to surprise Sandy and the rest of his family for what would turn out to be the most joyous of Thanksgivings.
On this day, Guy and Bob are blown out of the sky by a 57mm shell which turns their jet upside down. Miraculously, they are able to eject safely. Bob Craner is immediately captured as an entire North Vietnamese village as well as a cadre of North Vietnamese troops are sent after the 2 pilots. Guy manages to evade the enemy for nearly an hour before finally being captured.
At home, Sandy and Guy’s younger sister Maryann are preparing the Gruters home for Christmas. As they are doing this, they are visited by an Air Force Captain who informs Sandy that her husband has indeed been shot down again and his well being is yet to be known.
December 25, 1967, Christmas. Guy and Bob Craner are being held in a holding prison near the village of Vinh, North Vietnam. They both hear another prisoner being tortured repeatedly. This prisoner will give nothing but his name, rank, and service number. Both men are not only amazed at the other prisoners resolve but are fearful for his life. The other prisoner is thrown in with Guy and Bob, he is near death, emaciated and beaten beyond recognition, he recognizes Guy. Guy does not recognize him, but then is told by the man that he is Lance Sijan, whom Guy was a classmate with at the Academy. Guy is shocked at Lance’s appearance, he remembers Lance as a football player at the Academy, a big, strong, handsome young man.
At home, Sandy is again visited by the same Air Force Captain, who tells her that Guy has indeed been found, and that he is now a prisoner of war. To her, it is both a blessing and a curse, her husband is alive, but she truly knows that he is going to suffer.
Terry Gruters, although now not bound to serve because his brother is captive, decides that he MUST volunteer to go to Vietnam to rescue Guy.
As this is going on at home, Guy is subjected to beatings and interrogation, all the while trying to care for Lance Sijan, who is being tortured and beaten mercilessly.
Soon enough, Guy Gruters, Bob Craner and a barely living Lance Sijan are transported to:
THE NIGHTMARE AT “The HANOI HILTON”
The Hanoi Hilton: Hoa Lo prison in Hanoi, North Vietnam, dubbed by the prisoners of war held there, “The Hanoi Hilton”. A place of unspeakable horrors. Starvation diets, cells covered in vermin and rife with rats, tiny buckets used as bathrooms, boil inducing heat and bone chilling cold were the norm. “Interrogations” were also the norm, which normally ended in some form of medieval style of torture, all in hopes of having the prisoner capitulate to giving propaganda statements to so called “peace delegations.”
Guy and Bob Craner were initially separated from Lance Sijan upon their arrival at Hoa Lo prison. Both Guy and Bob feared terribly for Lance’s life, knowing how close to death he actually was. From their disgusting cell, they can again hear the savage beatings given to Lance due to his strict adherence to the Code of Conduct. Lance is finally thrown in the cell with Guy and Bob and they try desperately to save his life, they try and feed him and care for his every need but to no avail. After having been horribly injured and spending nearly 6 weeks alone in the jungle, coupled with the horrendous beatings and torture that he has endured, Lance Sijan passes away, crying out for his father as the savage guards take him from the care of Guy and Bob.
Guy is subjected to vicious and cruel interrogations and torture, but out of his love for his fellow servicemen and for his self respect, he will not give the enemy any vital information, nor will he agree to meet with the “peace delegations” or sign any Communist propaganda. Guy suffers terribly at the hands of his captors. Through his suffering, Guy is witness to and participant in some of the most incredible shows of courage and honor in the history of the United States Military.
During his many trials and tribulations, Guy relies on his faith to see him through some of his darkest moments.
His hatred towards his enemies turns to love for his fellow prisoners. His bitterness turns to forgiveness towards his captors. His despair turns to resolve, filled with the belief that his God and his fellow servicemen will someday set he and his brothers free.
Terry Gruters has now himself volunteered for some of the most intricate and dangerous missions of the Vietnam War, all in an effort to try and save his older brother. While returning to base after one particular mission, Terry is struck by the sight of body bags lined up on the tarmac of the airfield, he then realizes that he is not only flying to save his own brother, but for all of his brother soldiers.
Sandy Gruters is herself trying desperately to find out the condition of her husband and where he is. She goes as far as to travel with a host of other P.O.W. wives to Paris at Christmas, leaving her children behind in order to visit the North Vietnamese embassy and demand answers. Although the trip was unsuccessful, the North Vietnamese being cowardly in their refusal to meet with the entire delegation, it nevertheless didn’t deter Sandy in any way from trying to find out the whereabouts and well being of her husband.
GUY IS FREED
By Christmas of 1972, Guy Gruters has been in captivity for 5 years. The peace talks have stalled and President Nixon has decided to take a more aggressive approach in an attempt to bring North Vietnam to it’s knees. Terry Gruters has volunteered for one of the most dangerous yet possibly one of the most worthwhile missions of the Vietnam War. Terry is a crew member on a B52 bomber which will hit North Vietnam during Operation Linebacker 2 or what came to be known as The Christmas Bombing Campaign. Terry realizes that this may be the best chance he has to free his older brother and his comrades in arms.
The flying fortresses that are B52 bombers decimate North Vietnam and it’s defenses. The bombing of North Vietnam during Operation Linebacker 2, although reviled by some on campus and in the media has the desired effect that was President Nixon’s original vision. Terry Gruters and the other brave men who risked their lives during Operation Linebacker 2 have done their jobs flawlessly and the government of North Vietnam is forced back to the negotiation table. Within a matter of weeks, a peace agreement is hammered out, and Guy and his fellow prisoners are to be released.
Sandy Gruters is at home watching as President Nixon announces that the war is over and that one of the agreements is that all prisoners of war will be returned within 60 days, she is overjoyed.
In March of 1973, Guy Gruters and his brothers are finally released during Operation Homecoming. He has been held cruelly and barbarically captive for 5 and 3 months. Guy is among the third group of prisoners to be released and makes his triumphant return to the United States on March 17, 1973. He lands in Montgomery, Alabama after stop offs in The Philippines and Hawaii. His arrival is a glorious one and he is greeted by Sandy and his daughters, who are no longer the babies that he had left on that Thanksgiving over 5 years ago. Guy is also shocked at the appearance of his youngest brother Peter, who in 1967 was just a boy, he has now grown and is actually bigger physically than Guy. There are hugs, and kisses and tears of joy shed by everyone. It is truly the most blessed day of the Gruters family existence up until that point. There is only one thing missing, Terry Gruters. Ever humble, Terry would not arrive on the scene until the next day, not wanting to take any of the attention away from his older brother’s victorious return.
LIFE AFTER WAR
Guy Gruters returned home and returned to the Air Force, if only for a while. After retiring from the Air Force, Guy took a position as a pilot for Eastern Airlines, but was furloughed and soon enough he joined his younger brother Terry, who had also retired from the Air Force, highly decorated and having flown 500 missions in combat, as sales representatives for IBM. Guy and Bob Craner, also testified to Lance Sijan’s heroics and because of this testimony, Lance Sijan was posthumously awarded the Medal Of Honor by President Gerald Ford in 1976, becoming and remaining until this day the only Air Force Academy graduate to have that particular honor bestowed on him.
While with IBM, Guy engineered one of the most lucrative sales in the company’s history. Not too long after that, the Gruters brothers decided to go it on their own and started up their own software company. Guy and Sandy also welcomed 5 more children into their family. Terry is also a devoted family man, and he and his wife welcomed the blessing of six children to their family.
Guy Gruters, always guided by his Catholic faith decided, along with his brothers Terry and Peter to spread the word of the “Heroic Love” that he witnessed and was an active participant in during his time in the “Hanoi Hilton” and beyond to the world. Guy has given speeches and testimonials throughout the United States and around the world, as well as numerous television appearances, discussing the heroics of others as well as how he turned hate to love, despair to hope, fear to courage and bitterness into forgiveness. His message of faith in God, hope, love and honor is timeless and to this day he continues in his quest to bring “Heroic Love” to the world.