MILWAUKEE (AFNS) -- With his hands bound in manacles,
an imprisoned Air Force pilot watched from his bamboo holding cell
as North Vietnamese soldiers moved a wounded American prisoner into
the cell across from his. The pilot was shocked at the man's
appearance; his fingers were raw and his body was emaciated. His
whole body was covered in wounds; he had been pushing through the
jungle for 45 days without food. The pilot did not recognize the new
Retired Capt. Guy Gruters, seated at center, receives a standing ovation from (from left) Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Maj. Gen. Donald P. Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin, Brig. Gen. Gary L. Ebben assistant adjutant general for Air and Command Chief Master Sgt. Gregory Cullen following his address at Milwaukee's 128th Air Refueling Wing April 25, 2013. Gruters, a Vietnam War prisoner of war, spent more than five years in an enemy prison camp. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/1st Lt. Nathan Wallin)
The next morning, the guards had the pilot and his cell
mate pick up the new prisoner to take him to the bathroom.
The withered man looked over at his fellow prisoner and
said, "Aren't you Guy Gruters?"
"Yea, who are you?"
Oh no. Not
Lance... not Lance, thought Gruters.
veteran and Vietnam War prisoner of war, retired Capt. Guy
Gruters, spoke of his tragic yet inspiring experience in
captivity to Airmen and civilians assembled in Sijan Hall at
the 128th Air Refueling Wing April 25, 2013.
the audience, which also included members of the 128th's
Community Council and distinguished guests including:
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker; Maj. Gen. Donald P. Dunbar,
the Adjutant General of Wisconsin; and Janine Sijan Rozina,
Sijan's sister, that he and Sijan were in the same squadron
at the U.S. Air Force Academy for three years. Sijan, a
Milwaukee native, was solid as a rock at 210 pounds and had
played football for the Academy.
"To see him hurt so
bad was really difficult," Gruters said. "They would torture
him, and we would scream in our cells to get them to lay off
him and they'd come beat us."
Gruters continued to
specify the harsh treatment they received where they were
moved to at Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi. Their manacles were on
24 hours a day. They were beaten constantly on their wounds.
They were only allowed to wash themselves once a week.
Parasites, malnutrition and heat rash deteriorated the
Though Sijan's wounds and health
worsened, Gruters said he was always asking what the escape
plan was and what he could do to help.
always ready to escape," Gruters said. "We'd always come up
with plans just so Lance was satisfied."
succumbed to the harsh treatment and died of pneumonia
January 22, 1968.
"Lance's leadership of resistance
was perfect," Gruters said. "He fought them until he died.
His story was spread throughout the camps over and over
again, and I think that's what was responsible for a lot of
the resistance in the camps."
In the more than five
years Gruters spent in captivity, he and his fellow
prisoners devised a way to communicate to keep their faith
alive. The tap code, which is now taught in military
intelligence schools, is based off of the alphabet in a grid
system. One person would kneel on the floor to ensure the
guards were nowhere nearby while two would tap on the wall
to send messages back and forth.
"We did texting,"
Gruters said. "You know how all the kids do texting now.
Every night we tapped GNGBU. Good night, God bless you."
The punishment for communicating was three days and
three nights of torture, but the prisoners communicated for
hours using the tap code to raise their morale and hold on
to their faith.
"The North Vietnamese couldn't
conceive of how we did this," Gruters said.
told his audience that he had the best leadership in that
prison camp. The higher ranking officers often took the
brunt of the beatings for their men. They encouraged subtle
resistance and mandated that they take part in church
services within their cells. Their primary order was to
return with honor.
After Gruters and 590 POWs were
released during Operation Homecoming in 1973, Gruters was
instrumental to officials posthumously awarding the Medal of
Honor to Sijan in 1976.
Gruters' message to the
Milwaukee audience was that leadership and teamwork will
prevail. Communication was a key component in the prisoners'
survival and in Gruters' presentation.
applause, Walker, the Wisconsin governor, stood up and
thanked Gruters for his great contribution and commitment to
his country and his faith. Then he addressed the audience.
"Freedom. It's a simple word. It's endowed by our
creator," Walker said. "Defined by our constitution more
than 225 years ago, but it's defended by men and women like
By USAF Staff Sgt. Jenna Hildebrand
Air Force News Service
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