Gale Despiegler was born in 1938 in Browns Valley, Minnesota. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on September 13, 1956, and completed basic training at Lackland AFB, Texas, in October 1956. A1C Despiegler attended Weapons Control Systems Mechanic School at Lowry AFB, Colorado, from October 1956 to July 1957, followed by service as a Weapons Control Systems Mechanic Instructor with the 3435th and then the 3419th School Squadrons at Lowry AFB from August 1957 until he entered Officer Candidate School on January 1, 1960. He was commissioned a 2d Lt in the U.S. Air Force at Lackland AFB on June 17, 1960, and then completed navigator training at Harlingen AFB, Texas, in May 1961. Lt Despiegler next completed Navigator-Bombardier Training and B-52 Stratofortress Combat Crew Training in April 1962, followed by service as a B-52 navigator and radar navigator with the 436th Bomb Squadron (redesignated the 20th Bomb Squadron in April 1963) at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, and then at Carswell AFB, Texas, from May 1962 to April 1968. During this time he flew combat missions in Southeast Asia in 1965. Capt Despiegler then served as a B-52 radar navigator with the 46th Bomb Squadron at Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota, from April 1968 to March 1971, and he then attended F-4 Phantom II Weapon Systems Officer (WSO) training and F-4 Combat Crew Training from March to October 1971. He served as an F-4E WSO with the 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron at Da Nang AB, South Vietnam, from October 1971 until he was forced to eject over North Vietnam and was taken as a Prisoner of War on April 15, 1972. After spending 348 days in captivity, Maj Despiegler was released during Operation Homecoming on March 28, 1973. He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, and then received an Air Force Institute of Technology assignment to complete his bachelor's degree at the University of Tampa from August 1973 to June 1974. Lt Col Despiegler next served as Wing Simulator Training Officer and Wing Academics Operations Officer with the 56th Tactical Fighter Wing at MacDill AFB, Florida, from June 1974 to July 1977, followed by Air War College at Maxwell AFB from July 1977 to June 1978. His final assignment was as Chief of the Reports Division and Assistant Director of Operational Support for the 4441st Tactical Training Group at the U.S. Air Force Tactical Air Warfare Center at Eglin AFB, Florida, from June 1978 until his retirement from the Air Force on July 1, 1979.
His 4th Distinguished Flying Cross Citation reads:
Major Gale A. Despiegler distinguished himself by extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as a F-4E Weapon Systems Officer over Southeast Asia on 15 April 1972. On that date, Major Despiegler was deputy flight lead of a four ship armed reconnaissance flight into a heavily defended area of Southeast Asia. Despite poor weather conditions and intense antiaircraft fire, Major Despiegler visually acquired five surface to air missiles fired at his flight and directed the other members of his flight to safety. While directing the members of his flight to safety he subjected himself to the lethal barrage of missiles. The professional competence, aerial skill, and devotion to duty displayed by Major Despiegler reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.