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Air Force Academy to honor former prisoners of war

Air Force Academy honors former prisoners of war

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The United States Air Force Academy is honoring 33 of its graduates who were held as prisoners of war in Southeast Asia.

Nineteen former POWs met at the Academy Thursday to take pictures and catch up with fellow Air Force graduates.

"I learn a lot at all the reunions because of the different experiences that everybody had," Tim Ayres said. He graduated from the Academy in 1968 and was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. "You need to have faith in your fellow POWs, which could help you a lot, faith in your God, if you have one, and faith in your abilities using your intelligence and your training," he said.

The veterans will be honored at a special ceremony Friday, when the Academy unveils a new Southeast Asia prisoner of war memorial.

The Air Force graduates took time Thursday to eat lunch with current cadets and to share their experiences of war.

"We're the luckiest of all men because we had 300 friends who are willing to take torture and death for each other, whereas most people are lucky if they have five good friends in a lifetime," Guy Gruters said. He graduated from the academy in 1964 and was taken prisoner in Vietnam when he was 24. "It looked impossible to come home in those first years. It looked impossible, but we came home," he said.

The veterans said they were eager to talk to cadets about the importance of standing together.

"You basically have to accept the fact that when you graduate from this institution, everything that you do for the rest of your life has that as a foundation," Ed Mechenbier said. He was also in the class of 1964 before being taken prisoner. "Anytime you're put in a stressful situation, like being a POW, you realize how frail you as an individual are so you naturally draw off those around you," he said.

The former POWs wrote messages of hope to future generations.

"Be positive with yourself, your future, the country and everything you do," Gruters said. "Forgive everything and everybody always, no matter who hurts you and how they hurt you," he said.

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