SPENCER, LARRY HOWARD
|Name: Larry Howard Spencer
Rank/Branch: O2/US Navy
Unit: Fighter Squadron 92, USS ENTERPRISE
Date of Birth: 12 May 1940
Home City of Record: Earlham IA
Date of Loss: 18 February 1966
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 193700N 1055800E (WG873691)
Status (in 1973): Released POW
Other Personnel in Incident: James T. Ruffin (remains returned)
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.
REMARKS: 730212 RELSD BY DRV
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"
LT James T. Ruffin was an F4B pilot assigned to Fighter Squadron 92 onboard
the ENTERPRISE on its 1966 tour of Vietnam. On February 18, 1966, Ruffin and
his backseater, LT Larry H. Spencer launched on a strike near the city of
Thanh Hoa - one of the points of what was known as the "Iron Triangle" in
Ruffin's aircraft was hit by enemy fire and he and Spencer were forced to
eject. According to procedure, the backseater ejected first, then the pilot.
Thus, Spencer ejected some 10 miles southeast of Thanh Hoa and landed safely
on the ground. Some distance away, his pilot ejected just on the coastline
of Vietnam, but over water. Both parachutes were seen, and both men were
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.
James T. Ruffin was also classified as a prisoner of war; it was believed
that he was captured. At home, an organization of fighter pilots, the "River
Rats" began helping the POW wives with their business affairs and filling in
as "big brother" to their children to help ease their lives while their
husbands were captive.
Ruffin was not released in 1973, and the Navy then determined that he may
have been shot in his parachute, or drowned, or been killed by Vietnamese
fishermen or villagers when he descended. They were not certain what had
happened to him. 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
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
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
Larry Spencer retired from the United States Navy as a Commander. He
lived in Iowa.
Des Moines - Larry H. Spencer, 82, passed away on Saturday, May
21, 2022 which was Armed
Forces Day. Services will be held Tuesday May 31st, at 10:00, at Lutheran Church of Hope,
925 Jordan Creek Parkway, West Des Moines with visitation one hour prior. Larry will be
laid to rest at the Iowa Veterans Cemetery in Van Meter, Iowa with military honors including a flyover.
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