STAFFORD, RONALD DEAN
Name: Ronald Dean Stafford
Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force
Date of Birth: 03 January 1943
Home City of Record: Oxford NE
Date of Loss: 21 November 1972
Country of Loss: South Vietnam/Over Water
Loss Coordinates: 162442N 1075155E (ZD060160)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Other Personnel In Incident: Charles J. Caffarelli (missing)
Source: Compiled 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 in 2020.
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
Eight of the F111's downed during the war were flown by crews that were
captured or declared missing. The first was one of two F111's downed during
Operation Combat Lancer, during which the F111 crews conducted night and
all-weather attacks against targets in North Vietnam. On March 28, the F111A
flown by Maj. Henry E. MacCann and Capt. Dennis L. Graham was downed near
the airfield at Phu Xa, about 5 miles northwest of the city of Dong Hoi in
Quang Binh Province, North Vietnam. Both MacCann and Graham were declared
Missing in Action. Graham had been a graduate of Texas A & M in 1963. The
crew of the second F111 downed during March 1968 was recovered.
On April 22, 1968 at about 7:30 p.m., Navy LCdr. David L. Cooley and Air
Force LtCol. Edwin D. Palmgren departed the 428th Tactical Fighter Squadron
at Ubon Air Base, Thailand to fly an attack mission against the Mi Le
Highway Ferry over Dai Giang along Route 101. They were to pass over very
heavily defended areas of Laos at rather low altitude. Although searches
continued for four days, no wreckage was ever found. The loss coordinates
are located near Quang Bien, in Laos, although the two men are listed as
Missing in Action in North Vietnam.
As a result of the loss of the Cooley/Palmgren F111A, the Air Force
suspended use of the aircraft for a limited period to investigate the cause
of the losses and make any necessary modifications. After the aircraft
returned to the air, the crashes resumed. When the 15th F111 went down in
late 1969 because of mechanical failure, all F111's were grounded and the
plane did not return to Vietnam service for several months.
In September 1972 F111A's were returned to Southeast Asia. On September 29,
1972, the F111A flown by Maj. William C. Coltman and commanded by 1Lt.
Robert A. Brett, Jr. went down in North Vietnam on the Red River about 10
miles southwest of the city of Yen Bai. Inexplicably, 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. Both men remain Missing in Action.
On October 17, 1972, Capt. James A. Hockridge and 1Lt. Allen U. Graham were
flying an F111A near the city of Cho Moi in Bac Thai Province, North
Vietnam, when their aircraft went down. Both men were listed as Missing in
Action, until their remains were returned September 30, 1977.
On November 7, 1972, Maj. Robert M. Brown and Maj. Robert D. Morrissey flew
an F111A on a mission over North Vietnam. Morrissey, on his second tour of
Vietnam, was a 20 year veteran of the Air Force. The aircraft was first
reported lost over North Vietnam, but loss coordinates released later
indicated that the aircraft was lost in Khammouane Province, Laos near the
city of Ban Phaphilang. Both Brown and Morrissey remain missing.
On November 21, 1972, the F111A flown by Capt. Ronald D. Stafford and Capt.
Charles J. Caffarelli went down about halfway between Hue and Da Nang in
South Vietnam. Both the pilot and backseater were thought to have died in
the crash into the South China Sea, but no remains were ever found.
On December 18, 1972, LtCol. Ronald J. Ward and Maj. James R. McElvain were
flying an F111 on a combat mission over North Vietnam when their aircraft
was forced to ditch in the Gulf of Tonkin near the coastline at Hoanh Dong.
It was suspected that these two airmen may have ejected. They remain Missing
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
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?