HANSON, ROBERT TAFT Remains Returned November 3, 1988 Name: Robert Taft Hanson Rank/Branch: O2/US Navy Unit: USS Kitty Hawk RVAH 13 Date of Birth: 28 December 1942 Home City of Record: Toledo OH Date of Loss: 03 February 1966 Country of Loss: North Vietnam/Over Water Loss Coordinates: 191158N 1054458E (WG788229) Status (in 1973): Prisoner of War Category: 1 Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: RA5C Other Personnel In Incident: Gerald L. Coffee, released POW, pilot Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project with the assistance of one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Date Compiled: 15 March 1990. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK March 1997. REMARKS: PROB RECOV BY VN BOAT SYNOPSIS: Lt. Gerald L. Coffee was the pilot of an RA5C Vigilante reconnaissance aircraft assigned to Reconnaissance Squadron 13 on board the USS KITTY HAWK (CVA 63). On February 3, 1966, he and navigator Lt. Robert T. Hanson were on an intelligence gathering mission against a heavily defended portion of North Vietnam. Their aircraft was hit by enemy fire and was observed to explode and hit the water near the coast of North Vietnam east of Nghe An Province. No parachutes were seen, however an emergency survival radio beeper was heard. Both Coffee and Hanson successfully ejected and parachuted into the gulf. Several vessels were put out from the shore to capture the crewmen. Coffee was recovered by militiamen in one of the boats, and was held prisoner until his release in 1973. He stated that he had seen his navigator (Hanson) alive in the water about 12 meters away and thought that he had been picked up in one of the other boats. Lt. Coffee also reported that, shortly after his capture, a guard indicated by gestures that Lt. Hanson was dead and had been buried on the beach. Coffee was shown his identification card. An article in the February 1, 1973 Quan Doi Nhan Dan (a daily Vietnamese paper), in describing the February 3, 1966 shootdown, stated that, "The militia ...managed to bring the two enemy pilots to shore." Hanson and Coffee's plane was the only aircraft lost within 45 miles of the Gulf of Tonkin that day. Intelligence reports surfacing over the years during the war and following build a strong case for a well-organized second prison system, and a well orchestrated plan to keep prisoners within systems from intermingling. As it is widely believed that the Vietnamese withheld the release of many prisoners until peace agreement terms were met (specifically reconstruction aid), it is logical to assume that one prison system's inmates were released while another were held back for possible release at a later date. It is also logical to assume that the scenario might be played to its fullest, including convincing each man in a two man crew that had been separated, that the other was dead. Whether Robert Hanson survived to be captured is not known. Experts now believe, based on thousands of reports received, that hundreds of Americans are still held prisoner in Southeast Asia. Robert Hanson could be one of them. He deserves much better than the abandonment he has received by the country he proudly served. On November 3, 1988, the Vietnamese, who had previously denied knowledge of Lt. Hanson, "discovered" and returned his remains to U.S. control. When and how he died only the Vietnamese can say. Commander Coffee's last duty station was Commander, Pacific Fleet, Pearl Harbor Hawaii before he retired.