Our Fallen Spooks
COLTMAN, WILLIAM CLARE Remains Identified 02/2002
Name: William Clare Coltman Rank/Branch: O4/US Air Force Unit: 474 TFW 430th Tactical Fighter Squadron, pilot Date of Birth: 24 February 1932 Home City of Record: Pittsburgh PA 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 PFOD: 1978
Other Personnel In Incident: Robert A. Brett, navigator, missing
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 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 F111A's were returned to Southeast Asia after a long grounding period. On September 29, 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. 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?
1998 NOTE: Captain Kimberly Coleman was 12 when her father was declared MIA. She is now a labor and delivery nurse at Kessler Air Force Base in Mississippi. In 1978 a marker was placed over an empty grave in Arlington national cemetery in Virginia. Kimberly, her older brother, William Jr.; and their mother, Gail, still had no details on the pilot's death. In 1993 in the basement of a Hanoi museum, an American historian found a strobe light, a flight manual and a smoke flare from a plane that crashed on the same day and in the approximate vicinity as her father's. The weather is holding up crash site excavation, a search for remains and personal effects.
William Jr. graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1980 and flew F-111's at Royal Air Force Base in Lakenheath in England. He was an engineer at Falcon Air Force Base in Colorado before leaving active duty. He is a Major in the USAF Reserves.
National League of Families 02/20/2002
AMERICANS ACCOUNTED FOR: According to the Department of Defense, there are now 1,942 Americans still missing and unaccounted for from the Vietnam War. The remains of air Force COL William C. Coltman of PA, missing in Laos since September 29, 1972, were jointly recovered and repatriated on August 28, 2000. The remains of LtCol Lawrence G. Evert, USAF, from WY, missing since November 8, 1967, were jointly recovered during successive field operations beginning February 9, 2000. The remains of Navy LT Gene R. Gollahon of OH, missing in Vietnam since August 13, 1965, were jointly recovered April 26, 2000. The remains of Army Jon E. Swanson of CO and S/SGT Larry G. Harrison of NC, both Killed-in-Action/Body-Not Recovered February 26, 1971, were jointly recovered in Cambodia on July 1, 1992. In addition, one Air Force officer, previously missing in North Vietnam, was accounted for through identification of remains recovered during several field operations beginning in January, 1997. No public announcement has yet been made, though it is hoped that will soon occur. Of the total unaccounted for, 1,464 are in Vietnam, 410 in Laos, 60 in Cambodia and 8 in the territorial waters of the PRC. Over 90% of all Vietnam War missing were lost in Vietnam or areas under its wartime control
Las Vegas Review Journal
Thursday, April 04, 2002 Copyright Las Vegas Review-Journal
VIETNAM PILOT: Home to Rest Funeral gives closure to family of colonel who went missing in 1972
By STEVE TETREAULT STEPHENS WASHINGTON BUREAU
WASHINGTON -- "Wild Bill" Coltman made a name for himself at Nellis Air Force Base in 1967 as one of the first to test the new F-111A tactical fighter-bomber. A.....
I don't know if you have received this information from the family yet.
Richard Bonneau, 6901st, 1962-64, died last November (2009)
Oh, Kathy. I am so sorry to hear this, Richard was one of the nicest, smartest men I ever knew. November 9 was my birthday, which makes it even sadder. I wish you and the family all my very best. I will make sure that all the guys know, and will have him listed on the 6901 web site. God Bless.
On Dec 8, 2009, at 9:00 AM, Kathy Peters wrote:
Jon, my father passed away Nov 9 very peacefully. He had a hard time after the surgery and he is with Mom and both sons now. He wrote a note asking me to contact you to ask if you could let the USAFSS know of his death. Please do, for him. Thank You Jon, Kathy