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Memorial Day: A Former Prisoner of War Remembers Vietnam



People across the United States are observing Memorial Day on Monday.

The holiday is a time for remembering the men and women who died while serving the U.S. armed forces.

Those who fought in the Vietnam War often get special attention on Memorial Day.

American soldiers fought with South Vietnamese forces against the Communist forces of North Vietnam. The Vietnam War claimed 58,000 American lives.

Former U.S. Air Force Captain Guy Gruters says he volunteered for the war. He told VOA he wanted to prevent communism from spreading.

In early 1967, Gruters was sent to Vietnam. During his time there, he flew 400 combat missions against the enemy. His airplane was shot down two times.

Gruters said that American helicopters came and rescued him the first time. But the second time, he was captured by North Vietnamese forces.

The North Vietnamese first took him to a village and then to a detention center in Hanoi.

One week later, he was taken with about 12 other servicemen to a prisoner of war camp known as the “Hanoi Hilton.”

Gruters described the notorious camp this way: “That’s where they had all the torture to get the interrogations for the military information.”

The fighter pilot was moved to six different camps in five years. He was released in March 1973, after the U.S. and North Vietnamese officials signed a peace agreement.

Gruters remembers intense bombing before the agreement was signed.

“In December of 1972, the U.S. Air Force and Navy bombed heavily military targets in the Hanoi area. It was called the Christmas Bombing of 1972. In those 11 days, they dropped 40,000 tons of bombs,” he said.

In the early 1970s, many Americans opposed U.S. involvement in the war. But Gruters says the justification for the conflict is clear today.

“By the president of Indonesia, the president of Thailand and Malaysia, the president of the Philippines, that because of the U.S. fighting in Vietnam, they had the courage to fight the communist insurgents in their countries successfully,” Gruters said.

He added that because of those efforts, communism did not spread. He estimates that there are 450 million people free today in Southeast Asia because of American involvement in Vietnam.

Guy Gruters now works as a motivational speaker. He tells the people he meets “We should forget, forgive and love our enemies.”

I’m Mario Ritter.

Nikoleta Ilic reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted the report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

combat mission – n. military raids against enemy forces

notorious – adj. famous, especially for something bad

interrogations – n. the process of getting information from a person often in a forceful way

courage adj. bravery

insurgents n. someone who rebels against those in power or an established government

motivational – adj. a kind of speaking meant to give people reasons and energy to do something

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