SIDNEY – Retired U.S. Air Force Captain and POW Guy Gruters said the sacrifices of soldiers and their families during the Vietnam War were not in vain, because fighting that conflict was the deciding factor in ending the Cold War and stopping the spread of communism.
Gruters was the keynote speaker for the Septe. 16 opening ceremonies of the traveling Vietnam Wall and Field of Crosses exhibit, which will be at Sidney’s Custenborder Field until Sept. 19. More information can be found a the Shelby County Historical Society website at https://shelbycountyhistory.org/exhibits.htm.
The traveling Vietnam Wall and Field of Crosses commemorates the deaths of over 58,000 soldiers who died in Vietnam as well as the 1626 listed as missing in action. The exhibit is open daily starting at 8 a.m. There are also exhibits for other veterans and lists of the deaths in the 911 bombings. Guides will be on site throughout the entire event to help visitors locate the names of their families’ and friends.
In his speech, Gruters explained that the Vietnam War was part of a strategic plan of the US War Department to stop the spread of communism.
He said after the goals of communist countries such as the USSR had been consistently thwarted by America, the communists had changed their tactics.
“We won World War 1, we won World War Two,” he said. “That’s the truth. We were fighting and destroying evil.”
As a result, he said fighting the Vietnam War was important, because from 1940’s to 1991, the Russians had switched from direct conflict to a plan of taking over smaller countries as a way to cut off resources to the free world. “American war policy was to keep the conflict localized in South Vietnam so it would not spread to other countries, possibly starting World War III.”
Gruters emphasized that the markers for the success of the Vietnam War was in the outcomes.
“Financing the Vietnam War bankrupted the USSR, leading to their collapse,” he said, ending the Cold War. He also said the United States had won the support of the Vietnamese people, who by 1985 had thrown the communist government out. “They still love us there,” he said.
At one point in his speech, he described the goals of socialism and communism as not in keeping with the liberty enjoyed in the free world and that all who favored that philosophy should be voted out of governmental office.
Gruters, a top-gun pilot, who was shot down over Vietnam and held as a POW for years, described his own ordeals while in captivity. He said he and the other prisoners were tortured daily and would feel absolute terror every time the door to their small enclosure would be opened. He said in his book, Locked Up With God, people can read not only about his struggles but those of other “brave American servicemen whose accounts should make us all proud to be Americans.”
He noted that not many pilots survived.
“Three thousand, five hundred and fifty-one Air Force, Navy and Marines pilots were taken prisoner, but only 472 came back home. They killed six out of seven pilots they captured.”
He said the only reason the Vietnamese communists came back to the bargaining table to discuss releasing the prisoners was because President Richard Nixon had had the courage to implement Linebacker II, an extensive bombing program that dropped 38,000 tons of bombs on the Hanoi and Haiphong area in 11 days.
Other speakers at the event pointed out the importance of the traveling Wall and Field of Crosses in helping people understand the sacrifices of the soldiers and their families.
Sidney Mayor Mike Barhorst had one such example. He said when The Wall had been in the area six years earlier, he encountered one person deeply affected by the exhibit.
“During that last exhibit, I noticed a man sitting at the wall and crying. When I asked him if I could do anything to help, he said he was from Minnesota and had only six weeks to live. He said that he knew he did not have time to get to see the original wall in Washington DC, but he knew he could make it to Sidney, Ohio.”
Other activities at the opening ceremonies were the laying of wreathes. One wreath was from Gold Star widow, Sidney native Carleen Pettit. Other wreaths were presented by American Legion posts from Fort Loramie, Anna and Jackson Center along with the Catholic War Veterans, the Disabled American Veterans, Sidney VFW, and Voiture 984. These organizations also provided the Color Guard for the ceremonies. A table representing the plight of POW/MIA’s and their families was presented as well.
Other exhibits include a 10 a.m. on Saturday morning Cruise In at the Tawawa Park. Golf carts will be available to transport visitors from Custenborder to the park and back.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.