Former POW to speak at 'A Day of Remembrance for Our Heroes'

By Greg Miller
STAR STAFF

   JOHNSON CITY -- Ralph E. Gaither, CDR, USN (Ret.) will speak at "A Day of Remembrance for Our Heroes" at Adelphia Center on Thursday. The event is being sponsored by Good Samaritan Ministries and Fairview Housing.
   Gaither's primary message will be, "Hold close to the true values of life, as they will be your strength during the hard times."
   America's current War Against Terror can help the nation return to God, according to Gaither. "It has often been said that 'There are no atheists in foxholes,''' he said. "America is returning to the values that only a religious community can have. The terrorists have underestimated our American resolve, much like the Japanese did before Pearl Harbor.
   "Wars are not caused by God. He may know the future, but certainly does not plan it for us. By having the teachings of our Jesus Christ on our side, we will stand the tide and win this conflict. Truth and right always come through and will again."
   A veteran of the Vietnam War, Gaither became a Christian during his teen years. I became a Christian at 16 through Dr. Ray Stanford of Miami, Fla.," he said. "I was very strong in my faith. There was no doubt about my faith."
   A Birmingham, Ala., native, Gaither spent seven years and four months as a North Vietnamese Prisoner of War. "My radar operator Ltjg. Rodney Knutson and I were shot down due north of Hanoi, five miles south of China in Lang Son Province while flying a F4B Phantom aircraft," he recalled.
   "We were treated as the 'blackest of criminals.' We were given Vietnamese names and never respected as POWs or under the Geneva Conventions which Ho Chi Minh's government did sign in 1947. I was not a known POW for almost five years after my capture. This was very hard on my family."
   Gaither's experiences as a POW strengthened his faith in God. "I do not believe I am a better Christian because of my ordeal, but certainly one who understands God better and what it takes to be a faithful believer," he said.
   The most important prayer that Gaither prayed while a POW was for "understanding and to be closer to Jesus. Once I got down to either having faith or not and understanding that Jeremiah chapter 29 verses 13-14 say that you will find God when you search for him with all of your heart. Then it becomes easier."
   As a POW, Gaither had few freedoms. "We were to be held in solitary confinement if possible, not allowed to leave the cell except for household chores and no books, papers, games, etc....in the cell," he said. "I did not write a small card to my family for five years. We were only allowed to communicate with our cellmate."
   While in captivity, Gaither missed being "free to come and go without supervision. A prisoner is whatever the guard wishes him to be...as free or secure, dirty or clean, tired or rested, hungry or fed, etc.," he said.
   Gaither chronicles his experiences while in captivity in his book, "With God in a POW Camp."
   "I am honored to be a part of the Good Samaritan program," Gaither said. "I believe our great America will endure because our hearts are in the right place. Never doubt the founding principals that so many have fought and died for us to enjoy. We must carry that torch high, never allowing it to fall. My hand is there and so should be yours."
   Gaither and his wife, the former Barbara Lee Smith, have two daughters. "My oldest daughter, Nikki Townsend, is married and is an English teacher," Gaither said. "She and her husband, Lonnie, and our first grandson, Wyatt, live in Birmingham, Ala. My youngest daughter, Amy Gaither, lives in Washington, D. C., where she works for the University of Maryland's newspaper.
   The Gaithers live in Gulf Breeze, Fla., east of Pensacola. "I have a small business as an architectural woodcarver," Gaither said. "I make hand carved doors, fireplace mantles, mirrors, etc. I carved the seal for the main courtroom for the Supreme Court of Alabama a few years back."
   Thursday's reception will start at 5:30 p.m. The dinner will begin at 6:15 p.m. Tickets for the dinner are $25 each. A table for eight may be purchased for $150.
   For more information, or to reserve a table, call 928-0288.