Wendell “Ray” Alcorn: Seven Years a Prisoner of War

Ray Alcorn grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania. He served 30 years in the U.S. Navy including seven years as a prisoner of war. His last assignment before retirement as a Captain was as Dean of Students at the Naval War College. Alcorn and his wife, Karen, moved to Brevard full-time in 2006 and enjoy living near his sister and brother-in-law, Lou and Mike Shelley. Below, in his own words, is Ray Alcorn’s Vietnam story.

My brother and I were in a field baling hay one day while the National Guard practiced their maneuvers in F102s overhead. One pilot came down low and behind us and went over us at about 50’ then went rolling up into the air. I told my brother, “Someday I’m going to trade this tractor in for one of those.”
After college I went to Officer Candidate School for naval aviation and got my wings in June of 1963. In late 1965 our squadron was sent to Vietnam on the USS Enterprise, our country’s first nuclear powered aircraft carrier.

Shoot-Down
We started flying missions in Vietnam on December 2, 1965. On the 20th of December, on my 29th combat mission, I was shot down. On that day, we were to fly our first alpha strike — 90 airplanes going against a huge power plant complex outside the city of Hai Phong. The weather was terrible, about 400 foot overcast, 2-mile visibility and our Admiral sent word to Washington that we shouldn’t fly this mission. Washington said “Go hit it today. We don’t care what you have to do.”

We went in at 50 feet. We had flights of 4 in tight formation and we all dropped when the leader dropped. Ours was the 3rd flight through. Just as I was dropping my bombs, I was hit in the cockpit, a shell went through my oxygen mask, a shell hit me in the side of the neck and the oxygen mask blew up. I was temporarily blinded. At 500 miles per hour at 50 feet and unable to see, I had to make a quick decision. I’ll always live with the question of whether I made the right decision, because in a matter of seconds I could see again. But by that time I had ejected and was standing on the ground.

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