POW's legacy helps nephew in leadership roles

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Zachary Vucic
  • Air Force News Service

Military tradition runs deep in some families, with generation after generation raising their right hand and swearing to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. One family however, has continued to put its mark on military service even after inconceivable anguish struck during the Vietnam War.

In December 1967, the family was informed that one of their own, Capt. Guy Gruters, had been shot down and was now a prisoner of war. Guy sat for nearly five and a half years as a POW, with a portion of that span being at the notorious Hanoi Hilton in North Vietnam. He endured extreme temperatures, torture, isolation and horrid living conditions.

Today, more than 46 years after Guy’s capture, a Gruters family member has taken those lessons of fortitude, honor, valor, selflessness and teamwork to continue his legacy in Air Force service.  Maj. Peter Gruters is the director of operations with the 34th Intelligence Squadron at Fort George G. Meade, Md., and nephew of the man who would be the inspiration for his Air Force career.

“The Airman’s Creed sums it up: I am faithful to a proud heritage, a tradition of honor and a legacy of valor,” said the younger Gruters.  “It was my turn to stand up and carry on that tradition.”

Now, as a leader in his own right, Peter uses his uncle’s experience as a lesson in perspective for both himself, and the Airmen he leads. He said the lessons learned from how the POWs united and functioned in extreme austere conditions exemplify the teamwork needed in today’s Air Force.

“Whatever situation I’m going through, I know there’s a worse situation out there,” he said.

His interest in leadership stuck early in his career when he studied the subject in pursuit of a master’s degree. After being given a leadership role within an intelligence squadron, he was hooked.

“I was only going to (serve) for four years,” Peter said, adding that he intended to move back to his home state of Florida. “I stayed in because I got to lead Airmen. I came in because of family, but I stayed in because of the Airmen.”

The perspective of what his uncle went through is something he carries with him and passes on to Airmen.

“I have incredibly big shoes to fill,” Peter said. “I’m never going to reach to (Uncle Guy’s) level … but the one thing I do have is a positive role model and a positive example to strive for.”

Thinking of the family history, he said his mother wasn’t keen on the idea of him joining.  His famed uncle however said he was “ecstatic” about Peter being the first of 20 cousins to join the service – “Especially about the Air Force.”

Peter has deployed five times in his career and earned various awards along the way, including a Bronze Star medal. He said he has no intention of attempting to duplicate his Uncle’s achievements, but he pushes every day to live up to his family legacy and lead his Airmen