Mark Felhofer's "Operation Just Cause" Page

Nam Magazine - Site of the Week
Week of 5 May 2003

Honoring the Memory of Captain Billie Jack Cartwright, US Navy,

Name: Billie Jack Cartwright
Rank/Branch: CDR/O5/US Navy
Unit: VA-85*
Date of Birth: 21 June 1927
Home City of Record: San Antonio Texas
Date of Loss: 22 December 1965
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 211300N 1065700E (XJ023471)
Status (in 1973): Missing in Action
Category: 4
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: A6A // Side Number: Buckeye 801 // BUNO: 151781

Other Personnel in Incident: Edward F. Gold (missing)

Remains Returned: 1994 as listed on DoD Listing HERE

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 May 1990 from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S.
Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews.

When nuclear powered USS ENTERPRISE arrived on Yankee Station on December 2, 1965, she was the largest warship ever built. She brought with her not only an imposing physical presence, but also an impressive component of warplanes and the newest technology. Her air wing (CAG 9) consisted of more than ninety aircraft. Among her attack squadrons were VA 36, VA 93, VA 76 and VA 94. She launched her opening combat strike against targets in North Vietnam on December 17, and by the end of her first week of combat operations, the ENTERPRISE had set a record of 165 combat sorties in a single day, surpassing the KITTY HAWK's 131. By the end of her first combat cruise, her air wing had flown over 13,000 combat sorties. The record had not been achieved without cost. On December 22, the ENTERPRISE teamed with the carriers KITTY HAWK and TICONDEROGA in one of the war's biggest strikes to date, with one hundred aircraft hitting the thermal power plant at Uong Bi located fifteen miles north-northeast of the city of Haiphong. This was the first industrial target authorized by the Johnson administration. The ENTERPRISE's aircraft approached from the north and the KITTY HAWK/TICONDEROGA force from the south,leaving the plant in shambles. The day's casualties were two A-4Cs from the ENTERPRISE, an RA-5C Vigilante, and an A-6A Intruder -- six Americans shot down. One of the A-4s was flown by LTJG Wendell R. Alcorn, a pilot from Attack Squadron 94 onboard the ENTERPRISE. Alcorn's aircraft was shot down about 15 miles north-northeast of Haiphong and he was captured by the North Vietnamese. For the next 7 years, Alcorn was a "guest" in the Hanoi prison system. He was ultimately released in Operation Homecoming on Valentine's Day, 1973. The second A-4C shot down on December 22, 1965 was flown from the ENTERPRISE by LT John D. Prudhomme. Prudhomme's aircraft was hit by enemy fire and crashed near Alcorn's position. Prudhomme was not as lucky as Alcorn; he was deemed to have been killed in the crash of his aircraft. He is listed among the missing because his remains were not recovered. The RA-5C reconnaissance aircraft was shot down about 5 miles east of Hai Duong in Hai Hung Province, about 30 miles from Alcorn and Prudhomme. Its crew consisted of the pilot, LCDR Max D. Lukenbach and his rear-seater, LTJG Glenn H. Daigle. LTJG Daigle was captured by the Vietnamese and held in Hanoi until his release on February 12, 1973. Lukenbach, according to intelligence received, died in the crash of the plane and was buried near the crash site.The fates of the crew of the fourth aircraft to be shot down is uncertain. Pilot CDR Billie J. Cartwright and his side-seater LT Edward F. Gold were declared missing in action after their A-6A Intruder went down about 30 miles northeast of Haiphong. On December 23, twenty-four hours before President Johnson's thirty-seven-day bombing halt would take effect, another large flight launched from the ENTERPRISE for strikes in North Vietnam.

LTJG William L. Shankel describes the flight: "About twenty planes were going after a bridge over the Red River, halfway between Hanoi and Haiphong and I was in the second section. My A-4 was a real dog, and I had to cut corners to keep everybody else from running off and leaving me. I reached the target by myself, pulled up, and rolled in to dive-bomb the bridge. The plane was hit as soon as the bombs left, at the bottom of the dive... When I went out, the plane was inverted and almost supersonic, and the ejection really thrashed my right knee."

Shankel, Alcorn and Daigle were all held in what has come to be known as the Hanoi prison system -- The Hoa Lo (Hanoi Hilton), Heartbreak Hotel, the Zoo, Alcatraz, Briarpatch and others. Although their captivity was distinctly unpleasant, both from the standpoint of torture and deprivation and from the mental torture of wondering year after year, if they would ever come home, these three are among the more lucky ones. They came home alive.


At the end of the war, 591 Americans were released from the Hanoi prison system. Military authorities at the time were shocked that hundreds more known or suspected to be prisoners were not released. Since that time, nearly 10,000 intelligence reports have been received relating to Americans who were prisoner, missing or unaccounted for in Southeast Asia. Some officials, having reviewed this largely-classified information, have reluctantly concluded hatlarge numbers of Americans are still alive in captivity today. These reports are the source of serious distress to many returned American prisoners. They had a code that no one could honorably return unless allof the prisoners returned. Not only that code of honor, but the honor of our country is in jeopardy as long as even one man remains unjustly held. William L. Shankel, Glenn H. Daigle and Wendell R. Alcorn were promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Commander during the period they were Prisoners of War. Billie J. Cartwright was promoted to the rank of Captain and Edward F. Gold to the rank of Commander during the period they were maintained missing. William L. Shankel, MD is a surgeon and resides in Laughlin, Nevada.


*according to research so far


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This site was established on 25 December 1997
This page was last updated on November 16, 2001
Thanks to for the Side/Buno data. He was the plane captain for the A6A.
And he was the Plane Captain at the launch also.
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