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Billie Jack Cartwright was a Commander in the United States Navy when he went Missing in Action in North Vietnam on 22 December 1965. Carr was born on 21 June 1927, and his home city of record is San Antonio, Texas. Cartwright's remains were returned and identified in 1994.


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.

The Incident

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 A4Cs from the ENTERPRISE, an RA5C Vigilante, and an A6A Intruder -- six Americans shot down.

One of the A4s 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 A4C 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 RA5C 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 rear-seater LT Edward F. Gold were declared missing in action after their A6A 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 A4 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.

Personal Information

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.


Biographical and incident of loss information was obtained from either POW/NET and/or Task Force Omega, Inc (unless otherwise noted). Additional information may be found via remembrances at The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund or The Virtual Wall Vietnam Veterans Memorial.