CDR Ralph Ellis Gaither, Jr., U.S. Navy (Ret.), resident of Gulf Breeze, FL, went home to be with the Lord May 7, 2019 surrounded by his loving family. He was born in Birmingham, Alabama on March 8, 1942.
He is survived by his loving wife, Barbara; his daughters, Nikki Minoso (George) of Fairhope, Alabama, and Amy Killila (John) of Aiea, Hawaii; grandchildren, Wyatt Gaither Townsend, John Jr., Molly, and Samuel Gaither Killila; siblings, Linda Fager, Shirley Snowden (Wayne), and John
Gaither; as well as a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends. He is preceded in death by his parents, Ralph, Sr. and Frances Gaither.
Ralph married the love of his life, Barbara, shortly after returning home from Vietnam in 1973. They celebrate 46 years of marriage in May.
CDR Gaither enlisted in the U.S. Navy on November 26, 1962, was commissioned through the Naval Aviation Cadet Program and 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 VF-84 from the USS Independence in May 1965. On October 17, 1965, Ensign Gaither was forced to eject over North Vietnam and taken as Prisoner of War. He then spent the next 2,675 days in captivity. His personal heroic actions during his capture were recognized after his release during Operation Homecoming on February 12, 1973. CDR Gaither later completed a bachelor’s degree from University of California, San Diego. He went back on flying status and retired from the Navy in 1986. Decorations include: two Silver Stars, two Legions of Merit with Combat V, the Distinguished Flying Cross, four Bronze Stars with Combat V, six Air Medals, Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon, two Purple Hearts, Navy Commendation Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, sixteen Vietnam Service Medals, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, and the POW Medal. Ralph served 23 years in the Navy, retiring in 1986. He earned a second degree at the University of West Florida. He then started a second career teaching Technology Education at Escambia High School of Pensacola retiring in 2001.
Ralph’s love for flying continued after his Navy career. He built and flew a VariEze for many years. An avid diver & fisherman, he tormented the Gulf Coast’s red snapper population. Ralph’s love for woodcarving & calligraphy also flourished and many pieces of his craft can be found throughout our country. “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.”
The family gives special thanks to our dear friend and nurse, Lisa Miller, with her continuous loving care, The Arbors of Gulf Breeze and Emerald Coast Hospice. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donating to the Pensacola Aviation Museum or Northwest Florida Blood Center.
A Memorial Service will be held on Thursday, May 16, 2019 at 10:00 am at Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church, 75 Fairpoint Drive, Gulf Breeze, Florida 32561. Interment will be at 1:30 pm at Barrancas National Cemetery, 1 Cemetery Road, Pensacola, Florida 32508 with the procession leaving the church at 12:30 pm.