Ralph Gaither was born in 1942 in Birmingham, Alabama. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy on November 26, 1962, and was commissioned through the Naval Aviation Cadet Program and was designated a Naval Aviator on October 16, 1964. After fleet training in the F-4B Phantom II, Gaither began flying combat missions in Southeast Asia with Fighter Squadron 84 from the USS Independence in May 1965. On October 17, 1965, Ensign Gaither and his Radar Intercept Officer, LTJG Rodney Knutson, were forced to eject over North Vietnam and were taken as Prisoners of War. They both spent the next 2,675 days in captivity and were released during Operation Homecoming on February 12, 1973. Commander Gaither later went back on flying status and retired from the Navy on February 1, 1986. Ralph Gaither is married to the former Barbara Lee Smith and they have two daughters, Nikki and Amy. He wrote a book entitled "With God in a POW Camp", which has helped to tell his experiences as a Christian in the prisons of North Vietnam.
His 1st (of 2) Silver Star Citation reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while interned as a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam. In August 1966, his captors, completely ignoring international agreements, subjected him to extreme mental and physical cruelties in an attempt to obtain military information and false confessions for propaganda purposes. Through his resistance to those brutalities, he contributed significantly toward the eventual abandonment of harsh treatment by the North Vietnamese, which was attracting international attention. By his determination, courage, resourcefulness, and devotion to duty, he reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Naval Service and the United States Armed Forces.