RIP 7 May 2019

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
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4B
Mission: 72
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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.


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

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

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

Ralph Gaither Jr. retired from the United States Navy as a Commander. He and
his wife Bobbi reside in Florida.

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.



07 May 2019

It is with deep regret that I pass on that Ralph Gaither flew west this
morning. May he rest in peace! I received a txt from Bobbi a few minutes
ago. No other details at this time.

Ralph Gaither Obituary

A Memorial Service for CDR RALPH E. GAITHER will be conducted on
METHODIST CHURCH. The Church address is: 75 FAIRPOINT DR.,


A 1:30 PM Graveside Service will follow at BARRANCAS NATIONAL


"I learned many things as a prisoner of war, the most significant is that there is |
indeed a God who listens and cares. We must live each day with an appreciation
for the many Blessings we have been so fruitfully given." Ralph Gaither



Good morning,

I am writing to you from Chief of Naval Air Training (CNATRA) public affairs office.
We supported a flyover yesterday, May 16th , of two T-45C Goshawk aircraft for the
funeral of Cmdr. Ralph Gaither. We noticed that your website plays an important contribution
to the POW community and have a bio page for Gaither. We wrote a short tribute article for
him which you are more than welcome to use. Thank you for all your do for our fellow
service members.

Cmdr. Gaither article:


1stLt. Puczko, Pawel

Public Affairs Office

Chief of Naval Air Training



More info