Speaking out for ideals of America

Ralph E. Gaither, CDR, USN (Ret.) is a man who loves his country, God and family. He speaks out for the ideals of America. He's not a preacher, but a Navy fighter pilot who is a Christian and proud of it.
   Born March 8, 1942, in Birmingham, Ala., Gaither grew up and completed high school in Miami, Fla. After 1-1/2 years of college, an enlistment in the Navy led to the Naval Aviation Cadet Program and Wings of Gold, Oct. 16, 1964. Fleet training in the F4B McDonald/Douglas Phantom II found now 23-year-old Ensign Gaither assigned to Fighter Squadron Eighty Four en route to Vietnam aboard the USS Independence aircraft carrier in May 1965.
   On Oct. 17, his 72nd combat mission, as one of the first planes striking a major railroad bridge 17 miles Northwest of Hanoi, Gaither and his radar intercept officer Ltjg. Rodney Knutson were shot down and captured. They were outbound from the destroyed target, due north of Hanoi, just a few miles south of the China border. This capture led to a sojourn of seven years and four months as a Prisoner of War.
   Gaither and Ltjg. Knutson were returned to Freedom and America during the first POW release in February 1973. He was now a Lt. Commander. A bachelor when captured, marriage to Barbara Lee Smith and their two daughters Nikki and Amy form his family today. His book, "With God in a POW Camp," Broadman Press, has helped to tell his experiences as a Christian in the prisons of North Vietnam.
   Gaither's decorations include two Silver Stars with Combat V, Two Legion of Merit with Combat V, Distinguished Flying Cross, Four Bronze Stars with Combat V, Six Air Metals, Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon, Two Purple Hearts, POW Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, 16 Vietnam Service Medals and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.
   Retired from the U.S. Navy as a Commander in January 1986, Gaither retired from a second career as a high school technology teacher earlier this year. He has a small business as a professional woodcarver and travels as a speaker.
   "I learned many things as a prisoner of war, the most significant is that there is indeed a God who listens and cares," Gaither said. "We must live each day with an appreciation for the many blessings we have been so fruitfully given."