Dod dates: Remains recovered 11/20/2000. ID 03/05/2002
Name: Robert Arthur Brett, Jr.
Rank/Branch: O2/US Air Force
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.
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
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
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,
Father urged government not to write off his son
....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.....