Vietnam War casualty laid to rest in Arlington
0517. Vietnam War
casualty laid to rest in Arlington
by Master Sgt. Dorothy Goepel
Air Force Print News
WASHINGTON -- Col. William C. Coltman Sr.
was laid to rest with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on
April 3, nearly 30 years after he was declared missing in action
during his second combat tour in Vietnam.
Family and friends gathered for a
memorial service in Fort Myer Memorial Chapel, Fort Myer, Va., to celebrate the life of
Coltman, who was reported missing in action Sept. 29, 1972.
"Bill Coltman touched my life,"
said retired Brig. Gen. Charles Bishop,
who knew Coltman in the '60s.
"He left us rich memories and an abiding
faith in family. I'm a better
person for having known him."
Two of Coltman's three sisters, Harriet
Muir and Mary Crow, described their brother's sense of adventure, and a trip in
1972 to Las Vegas to visit him. Gratitude was expressed for "the
Lord's timing, because a few weeks later, he was reported missing."
They remarked about his impish nature,
and Crow remembered the times he would ask, "Who's the greatest brother in the
world," she asked.
On Sept. 25, 1972, Coltman deployed for
his second combat tour in Vietnam in support of Linebacker II. According to
historical records, 48 F-111As with the 474th Tactical Fighter Wing at Nellis Air
Force Base, Nev.,
arrived in Southeast Asia on
Sept. 27, to help check the accelerating
advance of the North
On Sept. 28 of that same year, the first
night of F-111 operations, Coltman and 1st Lt. Robert A. Brett Jr.
disappeared while on a strike mission in North Vietnam. The last radio and radar
contact occurred as the aircraft approached the Loatian border.
At that time, Coltman was said to have
deviated from his programmed track to avoid thunderstorms. Radio contact was never
reestablished and on Sept. 29, 1972, both men were declared missing in
action at the time of
estimated fuel exhaustion and
after a search and rescue operation produced no clues.
An investigative team with Joint Task
Force-Full Accounting discovered wreckage in Houaphan Province, Northern Laos, on
Aug. 1, 1998. The site was initially excavated in March 2000, and three
more digs followed.
The final excavation occurred in
September and November 2000. On Nov. 20
of that year the remains from
the site were returned to U.S. soil, and in
the months that followed, the
U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory
at Hickam Air Force Base,
Hawaii, began the identification process using
the techniques of forensic
anthropology and dentistry.
The laboratory positively identified
Coltman's remains in December 2001 and was able to distinguish that another crew
member was with him, said Ginger Couden, laboratory spokesperson.
Coltman's relatives traveled to Hawaii on March 29 to bring his remains to
Arlington for burial.
Coltman's widow, Gail Coltman, was
presented with the flag that had draped her husband's casket. Coltman's
brother, retired Col. (Dr.) Charles A. Coltman Jr., removed the MIA bracelet
he had been wearing all these years and wrapped it around a rose before
placing it on the casket.
Maj. Kimberly G. Coltman, who was only 12
when she last saw her father, rendered a salute after placing a rose on the
casket, in loving memory of "the best fighter pilot in the world,"
as she called him.
"It was a tearful occasion, but our
tears were tears of joy," Kimberly
said, a nurse at Mountain
Home Air Force Base, Idaho. "Words cannot
express my feelings knowing
that after all these years, my father has
What is important to the family, she
said, is that her father is now at peace.
"The ceremony at Arlington helps to
bring closure to something that's been looming in our lives for so long," she
In this celebration of his life, she
said, family and friends are happily reuniting after not having seen one another for
The current number of Americans who have
been recovered and positively identified since 1973 from the war in Southeast
Asia is 653, according to figures compiled by Joint Task Force-Full
Accounting officials. Still unaccounted for are 1,932 Americans -- 1,457 in
Vietnam, 409 in Laos, 58 in Cambodia and eight in China.