POW/MIAs remembered at ceremony

by Airman 1st Class Hailey Haux
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

As Airmen and Soldiers stood in the cold, they stretched, warmed their hands and hydrated to prepare for a run.

A man’s voice came over the loudspeakers.

“Physical fitness is key; it’s a part of staying resilient and it’s what got prisoners of war through hard times,” said Col. John Shapland, 435th Air Ground Operations Wing commander. “What a great way to start today — a run to honor those who came before us.”

Airmen from the 435th AGOW and other squadrons participated in a 5K run to honor POWs and those missing in action at the Ramstein Southside Fitness Center Sept. 21.

POW/MIA week is a week dedicated to remembering those who gave so much to our country. Throughout the week a special guest went around to different squadrons to tell his story and talk to Airmen about their service.

“It’s important to remember those who gave that huge sacrifice for our country,” said Tech. Sgt. Bradley Johnson, 1st Communications Maintenance Squadron special communications team leader.

Following the run was a luncheon at the Ramstein Officers’ Club. Retired Capt. Guy Gruters, who was a POW for five years during the Vietnam War, was the guest speaker.

“When my plane went down I managed to evade for 45 minutes,” Gruters said. “It was getting dark and I could hear a lot of yelling, just hoping that they wouldn’t find me and waiting for it to get dark. Once it got dark, I thought to myself, ‘I could possibly stand a chance.’ But they found me just as the sun was about to disappear.”

He immediately explained the living conditions he had to endure as a POW.
“We were given one blanket, no shoes or socks and two pairs of pajamas for the whole five years,” he said. “We were shivering for days and weeks at a time during the winter months.”

The food they were given while in captivity was limited as well.

“Two loaves of bread and two liters of water was all we got for the day,” he said. “After about a year and a half I finally got over the hunger pains.”

Gruters explained what the summer and winter months brought and described what interrogations were like.

“During one of my last interrogations one of my interrogators asked me if I was mad at my country because they had left me here for five years,” Gruters said. “I told him, ‘No,’ because even if I am here for 20 years, I will be going back to America. I still have the possibility of getting home to my family.”

At the end of the day there was a wreath laying ceremony before retreat.

“We remember POWs and MIAs today and this week,” Shapland said. “But they will be remembered everyday by those who loved them.”

A final word of advice to the audience was given before the ceremony ended.

“Don’t just flip through the training slides to keep current,” Shapland said. “Read the scenarios and learn from them. They may just one day save your life.”

As the wreath was placed, the POW and American flags were folded and the day came to a close, Airmen and civilians paid their respects to those who sacrificed so much.