Guy Gruters grew up with a singular ambition: to be the best at whatever he did. And a quick glance at his developing resume would confirm that he was well on his way; Eagle Scout, first in his graduating class in Engineering Science at the United States Air Force Academy, a Master’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering in less than one year, pilot training and fighter gunnery school. And a beautiful wife and two healthy children seemed to round out the picture. But Gruters wanted more.
So he volunteered for Viet Nam, flew more than 400 successful combat missions, and began collecting awards there too.
In one spectacular example of courage, Captain Gruters repeatedly flew his unarmed F-100 jet across a ground target, with the intention of drawing fire so that he could expose the enemy’s position and minimize the risk for his fellow pilots. For this, he was awarded his second silver star for valor. One month later, in November of 1967, he was shot down over the South China Sea, but was rescued. At 25 years-old, Captain Gruters seemed remarkably close to golden.
But on December 20, 1967 Gruters was shot down again. And this time there would be no dramatic rescue. For the next five years and three months the man who thought he knew what success looked like got a whole new perspective.
In the Hoa Lo Prison (commonly known as the ‘Hanoi Hilton’), Gruters was starved, humiliated, tortured, and even forced to watch one of his fellow pilots beaten to death. Without proper clothing or ventilation, he froze in the winter and baked in the summer.
Naturally as the days turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into months, Gruter’s heart hardened. He decided he’d beat his North Vietnamese captors by holding on to his hatred and rage. But by the end of his first year as a prisoner of war, Gruters knew he needed to change his strategy. ‘To be the best’ he needed to now embrace a role he’d never dreamed of adding to his resume: prisoner. And he knew what that would involve. In the darkness and filth of his tiny cell Guy began forgiving his captors, and he credits surviving the final four and a half years to this life-changing decision. Peace replaced rage, and humility replaced pride.
Finally on March 14, 1973, after 1,912 days in captivity, Captain Guy Gruters was released during Operation Homecoming. He and his wife would go on to have five more children, and today he writes and speaks about the power of forgiveness.
“To be the best”…you can’t give up, but you might need to surrender.
Guy Gruters is a hero you should know. And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.