Robert Arthur Brett, Jr. – Captain, United States Air Force

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. NETWORK 2002.


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 Major William C. Coltman and commanded by First Lieutenant 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 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?

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 Colonel William C. Coltman of PA and Lieutenant Robert A. Brett, Jr., of Oregon, missing in Laos since September 29, 1972, with remains jointly recovered August 28, 2000.

After 30 years of uncertainty, friends and family were able to honor a pilot whose plane went down during the Vietnam War. 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. Last November, the military determined the F-111 fighter-bomber that Brett was flying crashed in Laos on Sept. 29, 1972. Brett's wife, Patrice, and daughter, Camille lived in Corvallis at the time of his disappearance. Camille was 8 months old the last time she saw her
father. Brett had two brothers, Joe and Michael, and two sisters, Cindy Gulledge and Melissa Coven.

His parents, Bob and Florence, lived on Eberlein Avenue at the time his plane went down. Family members no longer live in Klamath Falls. His father, Bob Brett, a veteran of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, spent 31 years in the Air Force before his retirement in 1971. Bob Brett stayed active in the Klamath Falls community after leaving the military, including Klamath Area Transit, United Good Neighbors, YMCA, Klamath Basin Senior Citizens and the Oregon Department of Adult and Family Services. After his son's disappearance, Bob Brett pressured the United States government and the Pentagon not to “write off” his son. “If the American public allows the administration to write off these men,” Bob Brett said in 1974, “then I feel it is a national tragedy, a national shame that each citizen will have to bear the responsibility for.” Lefty Brett graduated from Oregon State University in 1970 with a degree in
Political Science and was honored as a distinguished graduate in military science. After flight training in Las Vegas and Arizona, he left for Thailand on Sept. 24, 1972. The Pentagon reported in 1972 that his plane was flying through
thunderstorms when it lost radar contact.


  • Date of Birth: 4/16/1948
  • Date of Casualty: 9/29/1972
  • Home of Record: CORVALLIS, OREGON
  • Branch of Service: AIR FORCE
  • Rank: CAPTAIN
  • Casualty Country: LAOS
  • Casualty Province:
  • Status: MIA


  • DATE OF BIRTH: 04/16/1948
  • DATE OF DEATH: 09/29/1972


Read our general and most popular articles

Leave a Comment