BRETT, ROBERT ARTHUR JR. Dod dates: Remains recovered 11/20/2000. ID 03/05/2002
Name: Robert Arthur Brett, Jr. Rank/Branch: O2/US Air Force Unit: Date of Birth: 16 April 1948 Home City of Record: Corvallis OR Date of Loss: 29 September 1972 Country of Loss: North Vietnam Loss Coordinates: 213551N 1045921E (VJ989881) Status (in 1973): Missing In Action Category: 4 Acft/Vehicle/Ground: F111A Refno: 1929 Other Personnel In Incident: William C. Coltman (missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 April 1991 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. NETWORK 2002.
SYNOPSIS: The F111 was first used in Southeast Asia in March 1968 during Operation Combat Lancer and flew nearly 3,000 missions during the war despite frequent periods of grounding. From 1968 to 1973, the F111 was grounded several months because of excess losses of aircraft. By 1969, there had been 15 F111's downed by malfunction or enemy fire. The major malfunctions involved engine problems and problems with the terrain following radar (TFR) which reads the terrain ahead and flies over any obstructions. Eight of the F111's downed during the war were flown by crews that were captured or declared missing.
In September 1972, F111As were returned to Southeast Asia after a long grounding period. On September 28, 1972, the F111A flown by Maj. William C. Coltman and commanded by 1Lt. Robert A. Brett, Jr. went out of radio contact in North Vietnam on the Red River about 10 miles southwest of the city of Yen Bai. At 1:15 a.m., September 29, when the aircraft failed to return from their mission, the two were declared missing at the time of estimated fuel exhaustion.
A news release issued by North Vietnam claimed the downing of an F111 in the same area near Yen Bai, but made no mention of the fate of the crew. A second North Vietnamese news release, monitored by the BBC in Hong Kong, claimed to have downed an F111 on September 28 and captured the crew. Brett and Coltman were the only F111 aircrew operating in that area.
The National League of Families published a list in 1974 that indicated that Robert A. Brett had survived the downing of his aircraft, and that the loss location was in Laos, not North Vietnam.
The last missing F111A team to be shot down was Capt. Robert D. Sponeyberger and 1Lt. William W. Wilson. Sponeyberger and Wilson were flying a typical F111 tactical mission when they were hit - flying at supersonic speed only a few hundred feet altitude. They were declared Missing in Action.
In 1973, however, Sponeyberger and Wilson were released by the North Vietnamese, who had held them prisoner since the day their aircraft was shot down. Their story revealed another possibility as to why so many F111's had been lost. Air Force officials had suspected mechanical problems, but really had no idea why the planes were lost because they fly singly and out of radio contact. Capt. Sponeyberger and 1Lt. Wilson had ruled out mechanical problems. "It seems logical that we were hit by small arms," Wilson said, "By what you would classify as a 'Golden BB' - just a lucky shot." Sponeyberger added that small arms at low level were the most feared weapons by F111 pilots. The SAM-25 used in North Vietnam was ineffective at the low altitudes flown by the F111, and anti-aircraft cannot sweep the sky fast enough to keep up with the aircraft.
That a 91,000 pound aircraft flying at supersonic speeds could be knocked out of the air by an ordinary bullet from a hand-held rifle or machine gun is a David and Goliath-type story the Vietnamese must love to tell and retell.
As reports continue to be received by the U.S.Government build a strong case for belief that hundreds of these missing Americans are still alive and in captivity, one must wonder if their retention provides yet another David and Goliath story for Vietnamese propaganda. The F111 missions were hazardous and the pilots who flew them brave and skilled. Fourteen Americans remain missing from F111 aircrafts downed in Southeast Asia. If any of them are among those said to be still missing, what must they be thinking of us?
LEAGUE UPDATE: March 7, 2002
AMERICANS ACCOUNTED FOR: According to the Department of Defense, there are now 1,936 Americans still missing and unaccounted for from the Vietnam War. Most recently, remains jointly recovered in June, 1994, were identified as Air Force Colonels Peter M. Cleary of CT and Leonardo C. Leonor of NY, both listed as MIA October 10, 1972 in North Vietnam. Also recently identified were Army SSGs Larry G. Kier of NB and Rufugio T. Teran of MI, missing in a South Vietnam ground incident since May 6, 1970. Local villagers initially provided remains in August 1992; joint operations resulted in further information and remains. Others recently accounted for include Air Force Col William C. Coltman of PA and LtCol Robert A. Brett, Jr., of OR, missing in Laos since September 29, 1972, with remains jointly recovered August 28, 2000.
Father urged government not to write off his son
08/04/02 By PETER MARTINI
....A ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia was held Thursday in honor of Robert "Lefty" Brett, most of whose family lived in Klamath Falls when he was declared missing on Sept. 29, 1972.....