James Edmund Carlton, Jr
United States Marine Corps
Birmingham, Alabama
July 10, 1939 to September 23, 1975
(Incident Date April 17, 1967)
JAMES E CARLTON Jr is on the Wall at Panel 18E, Line 39


01 Apr 2008

All gave some, Some gave all.
Freedom is not free.

From one who wears his MIA bracelet,


A Note from The Virtual Wall

On the evening of 17 April 1967 three A-6 Intruders from Marine Attack Squadron 242 launched from Danang Air Base for a radar attack against a target south of Vinh, North Vietnam. While enroute, the flight lead's attack radar system failed and he turned back. The squadron's Operations Officer, Major James M. McGarvey, took command of the remaining section and proceeded toward the planned coast-in point. As the two aircraft approached coast-in, McGarvey's wingman dropped into a one-minute trail position to provide the separation necessary to protect his aircraft from debris arising from McGarvey's attack. At 11:12 PM the wingman saw and reported by radio a large, bright orange explosion ahead of him but had no reason to associate the explosion with McGarvey. The wingman executed his attack as planned, but was unable to contact McGarvey after returning over water.

Airborne searches the following day failed to locate a crash site and there was no contact with Major McGarvey or his bombardier-navigator, Captain James E. Carlton. When search and rescue operations ended on 26 April both men were classed as missing in action. Neither man returned with the POWs in early 1973 and the North Vietnamese denied any knowledge of them.

On 22 April 1974 the Secretary of the Navy approved a Presumptive Finding of Death for McGarvey, and on 23 Sep 1975 approved a similar action for James Carlton - and so matters stood for 20 years.

The estimated location of the explosion sighted by McGarvey's wingman was very close to the coastline, which was characterized by flat terrain, extensive cultivation, and a high population density. The extensive airborne search operations between 18 and 26 April 67 had not identified a crash site, and on-scene US-Vietnamese investigations in the early 1990s failed to locate either a crash site or any local residents who recalled an aircraft crash in the area. It is postulated that McGarvey and Carlton may have crashed offshore; if so, there is no reasonable expectation that the aircraft wreckage or remains will be found.

One of The Virtual Wall staff members is an A-6 bombardier-navigator with considerable experience in the sort of mission that McGarvey and Carlton were flying. There was a half-moon on the night of 17/18 April 1967, but at 11:00 PM the moon would be close to setting behind the mountains which divided North Vietnam from Laos ... there would be little or no moonlight illuminating the water or ground beneath the aircraft. There were no lights ashore either; North Vietnam at night was simply a black hole. The Gulf of Tonkin frequently was as smooth as glass, without wave crests or shore-line breakers to give a visual clue as to one's height above the water. Although reliable over land or rough water, the A-6A's radar altimeter not uncommonly would either refuse to function over smooth water or (even worse) would misinterpret the much lower radar reflections as indicating a greater altitude than was actually the case.

The two Intruders were conducting a night radar attack, which normally would involve a low-level entry and exit to avoid enemy radar contact, particulary around Vinh where there were a number of SA-2 surface-to-air missile sites. Assuming a 300-to-500 foot ingress and enroute altitude, it is entirely possible that McGarvey's radar altimeter failed him and that the absence of visual cues prevented him from realizing that he was going below his planned ingress altitude. Water impact under these conditions certainly was not impossible.

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