William Francis Coakley
Remains Returned - 1989
|SYNOPSIS: LtCdr. William F. Coakley was a pilot assigned to Attack Squadron 153
onboard the aircraft carrier USS Constellation (CVA-64). On the night of
September 13, 1966, he launched in his A4C "Skyhawk" attack aircraft on an
armed reconnaissance mission into North Vietnam.
Coakley's aircraft commenced an identification pass under a single flare dropped by his
flight leader. He reported by radio that he was in his run and immediately thereafter,
the flight leader observed Coakley's aircraft impact the ground spreading flames over
a large area. No transmissions were received in response to calls, no signalling devices
were seen or heard. It is suspected that enemy ground fire or Coakley's excessive
concentration on the target area caused his collision with the ground. No ejection or
parachute was seen.
Coakley's status was initially Missing In Action, but was changed the following day,
September 14, 1966, by the onscene commander to Killed In Action, Body Not
Recovered. He was among nearly 2500 Americans still unaccounted for from the
In early 1989, the U.S. announced that remains returned by Vietnam had been positively
identified as those of Commander William F. Coakley. For 22 years, the Vietnamese
denied any knowledge of him or his fate, but "discovered" his remains and returned
them to U.S. control. According to the Vietnamese, Coakley died instantly when a
Surface to Air Missile (SAM) hit his aircraft.
Coakley was a career Navy officer, having been in the service since the 1950's. The
agonizing wait is over for his mother, Jeannette, age 85 who wondered for 23 years
whether he was a prisoner of war. "All those years I worried about his being in prison.
It's a terrible thing when you know how he might have been tortured. I'm very sad and
happy all at once," Coakley's mother told Boston Globe reporter Ray Richard.
Since war's end, thousands of reports have been received indicating that many
Americans did not perish in their crashes as Coakley evidently did, but survived, and
are still alive today waiting for the country they served to bring them home. What are
we doing to secure their freedom?