GAITHER, RALPH ELLIS, JR Name: Ralph Ellis Gaither, Jr. Rank/Branch: O2/US Navy Unit: Fighter Squadron 84, USS INDEPENDENCE (CVA 62) Date of Birth: 08 March 1942 Home City of Record: Miami FL Date of Loss: 17 October 1965 Country of Loss: North Vietnam Loss Coordinates: 215400N 1065900E (YK048228) Status (in 1973): Released POW Category: Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4B Mission: 72 Other Personnel In Incident: Rodney A. Knutsen (released POW); At nearby coordinates, all F4 aircraft from USS Independence and US Navy personnel; Stanley E. Olmstead (missing) and Porter A. Halyburton (released POW); Roderick L. Mayer (missing - died of severe wounds) and David R. Wheat (released POW) Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 April 1990 from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK 2016. REMARKS: 730212 RLSD BY DRV - INJURED SYNOPSIS: LT Roderick Mayer was a pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier USS INDEPENDENCE (CVA-62). On October 17, 1965 he and his Radar Intercept Officer (RIO), LTJG David Wheat launched in their F4B Phantom fighter jet for a day strike mission on the Thai Nguyen bridge northeast of Hanoi. On the same day, a second Phantom flown by LCDR Stanley E. Olmstead, with LTJG Porter A. Halyburton as his RIO, and a third Phantom flown by LTJG Ralph Gaither and LTJG Rodney A. Knutson also launched from the USS INDEPENDENCE. These four pilots were part of Fighter Squadron 84, the "Jolly Rogers". Mayer and Wheat were part of the carriers Fighter Squadron 41. All were dispatched to the same general mission area near the city of Thai Nguyen. The three Phantoms were all shot down within a few miles of each other. Knutson and Gaither were shot down in Long Song Province, North Vietnam, near the border of China, or about 75 miles northeast of the city of Thai Nguyen. Olmstead and Halyburton were shot down in Long Son Province about 40 miles east of the city of Thai Nguyen. Mayer and Wheat were shot down about 55 miles east-northeast of the city of Thai Nguyen, in Long Son Province. Mayer and Wheat's aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire. Both men were seen to eject from the aircraft. Search and rescue (SAR) efforts were hampered due to enemy small arms fire. Lt. Mayer was observed over a period of two hours in a prone position, still in his parachute. Before rescue helicopters could reach the scene, both Mayer and Wheat had disappeared from sight and enemy troops were seen in the area. David R. Wheat was confirmed to be a prisoner of war, and when released in 1973, made statements which suggest that Mayer was killed during the ejection or that he died later of injuries resulting from the ejection. He stated that Lt. Mayer did not move, even when he was found by ground troops. Mayer was classified Prisoner of War. LCDR Olmstead's aircraft was hit by hostile fire and crashed while on a bombing mission. No transmissions were heard, nor was there any sign of ejection by either crewmember. Other U.S. aircraft passed over the crash site and determined that there was no possibility of survival. However, it was later learned that Halyburton had survived, and was captured. Being the RIO, Halyburton would eject first. It was believed that Olmstead had probably died in the crash of the aircraft, but there was no proof of this theory. Olmstead was classified Missing in Action. Gaither and Knutson were captured by the North Vietnamese, spent nearly 8 years as prisoners and were both released on February 12, 1973 in Operation Homecoming. Knutson had been injured, and was not fully recovered at the time of his release. The fates of these six men from the USS INDEPENDENCE was not clear at the time they were shot down. Their status changed from Reported Dead to Prisoner of War or Missing in Action. At the end of the war, only Olmstead and Mayer remained missing. Ultimately, they were declared dead for lack of evidence that they were still alive. When the war ended, refugees from the communist-overrun countries of Southeast Asia began to flood the world, bringing with them stories of live GI's still in captivity in their homelands. Since 1975, nearly 10,000 reports relating to Americans missing in Southeast Asia have been received. Many authorities believe that hundreds of Americans are still held in the countries in Southeast Asia. The U.S. Government operates on the "assumption" that one or more men are being held, but that it cannot "prove" that this is the case, allowing action to be taken. Meanwhile, low-level talks between the U.S. and Vietnam proceed, yielding a few sets of remains when it seems politically expedient to return them, but as yet, no living American has returned. Roderick L. Mayer was promoted to the rank of Commander during the period he was maintained missing and David R. Wheat was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Rodney A. Knutson and Ralph E. Gaither were promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Commander during the period they were maintained as prisoner of war. Stanley E. Olmstead was promoted to the rank of Commander during the period he was maintained missing. Porter A. Halyburton was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Commander during the period he was maintained as a prisoner of war. SOURCE: WE CAME HOME copyright 1977 Captain and Mrs. Frederic A Wyatt (USNR Ret), Barbara Powers Wyatt, Editor P.O.W. Publications, 10250 Moorpark St., Toluca Lake, CA 91602 Text is reproduced as found in the original publication (including date and spelling errors). I THANK THEE LORD By RALPH E. GAITHER, JR. Lieutenant Commander- United States Naval Reserve Written in North Vietnam, 1972 Captured: 17 October, 1965 Released: 12 February, 1973 I thank thee Lord for blessings big and small; For spring's warm glow and songbird's welcome call; For summer's lease with clouds that dance and rain; For autumn's hue and winter's snow white shawl. I thank thee for the harvest rich with grain; For tall green trees, a park with shadowed lane; For rushing streams, for birds that love to fly; My country's land, the mountains and the plain. I thank thee for each sunset in the sky; For sleepy nights, the bed in which I lie; A life of truth and peace, a woman's love; Her hand in mine until the day I die. I thank thee Lord for all these things above; But most of all, I thank thee for thy love. ====================== Ralph Gaither Jr. retired from the United States Navy as a Commander. He and his wife Bobbi reside in Florida.
05/2016 Ralph Gaither had a bad fall, fractured hip, and is in rehab down in Gulf Breeze, FL area. Our old friend is having a bit of a rough patch, to say the least. Keep him and beautiful Bobbie in your prayers. He is one very good man, and Bobbie is an angel.