Remains Returned 03 June 1983
Name: James Thomas Ruffin
Rank/Branch: O2/US Navy
Unit: Fighter Squadron 92, USS ENTERPRISE
Date of Birth: 16 January 1941
Home City of Record: Deatsville AL
Date of Loss: 18 February 1966
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 193700N 1055800E (WG873691)
Status (in 1973): Mrs Ruffin states her husband was never classified as POW, but MIA.
Category: 3
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4B
Refno: 0255
Other Personnel in Incident: Larry H. Spencer (released POW)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 June 1990 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: When nuclear powered USS ENTERPRISE arrived on Yankee Station on
December 2, 1965, she was the largest warship ever built. She brought with
her not only an imposing physical presence, but also an impressive component
of warplanes and the newest technology. By the end of her first week of
combat operations, the ENTERPRISE had set a record of 165 combat sorties in
a single day, surpassing the KITTY HAWK's 131. By the end of her first
combat cruise, her air wing had flown over 13,000 combat sorties. The record
had not been achieved without cost.
One of the aircraft that launched from the decks of the ENTERPRISE was the
F4 Phantom, used by Air Force, Marine and Navy air wings, served a multitude
of functions including fighter-bomber and interceptor, photo and electronic
surveillance. The two man aircraft was extremely fast (Mach 2), and had a
long range (900 - 2300 miles, depending on stores and mission type). The F4
was also extremely maneuverable and handled well at low and high altitudes.
The F4 was selected for a number of state-of-the-art electronics
conversions, which improved radar intercept and computer bombing
capabilities enormously. Most pilots considered it one of the "hottest"
planes around.
Mrs. Ruffin states:  Here is what telegrams and letters from US Navy told me
and my husband's family. This information is substantiated by reports in my
husband's military files:
James Thomas Ruffin was pilot of an F4 which was shot down approximately a
mile off the coast south of Thanh Hoa on February 18, 1966. He had reported
compass and ta-can malfunction and his plane was separated from the others
on that mission, so no Americans (with the possible exception of Larry
Spencer) saw the plane go down. There were many sampans in the area and
cloud cover when recovery efforts from other planes failed to locate Jim or
his RIO Larry Spencer.  A few days later, a monitored radio report spoke of
the downing of an "air pirate" on the same date and location where Jim and
Larry were lost. The capture of a pilot was reported! . Since the reporter
would not have known the difference between the pilot and the RIO, the
military apparently thought that "pilot" was Larry Spencer. My husband was
never classified as POW.
Larry Spencer was captured by the North Vietnamese and taken to Hanoi.
There, he joined others from the ENTERPRISE, as well as friends from his
previous tour onboard the USS RANGER. Spencer was held prisoner for the next
7 years until his release on February 12, 1973 in Operation Homecoming.
Ruffin was not released in 1973. The Vietnamese denied any knowledge of
James Ruffin. Then on June 3, 1983, the Vietnamese "discovered" the remains
of James T. Ruffin and returned them to U.S. control. Ruffin was finally
home, but it was still not clear when or how he died. Those questions may
never be answered.
Nearly 2500 Americans did not return from the war in Vietnam. Thousands of
reports have been received indicating that some hundreds remain alive in
captivity. As in the case of James Ruffin, Vietnam and her communist allies
can account for most of them. Current "negotiations" between the U.S. and
Vietnam have yielded the remains of nearly 300 Americans. The families of
these men at last have the peace of knowing whether their loved one is alive
or dead.
In the total view of the issue of the missing, however, the return of
remains signals no progress. In the early 1980's the very credible
Congressional testimony of a Vietnamese mortician indicated that the
Vietnamese are in possession of over 400 sets of remains. In 15 years, they
have returned barely half of them. More importantly, the same credible
witness, whose testimony is believed throughout Congress, stated that he had
seen live Americans held at the same location where the remains were stored.
As long as even one American remains alive in captivity in Southeast Asia,
the only issue is that one living man. We must bring them home before there
are only remains to negotiate for.
James T. Ruffin and Larry H. Spencer were both promoted to the rank of
Lieutenant Commander during the period they were maintained in prisoner of
war or missing status.