Name: James Edwin Plowman 
Rank/Branch: Lieutenant Junior Grade/US Navy 
Unit: Attack Squadron 85, 
USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63) 

Date of Birth: 14 October 1943 (Miami, FL)
Home of Record: Pebble Beach, CA
Date of Loss: 24 March 1967 
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 212500N 1065700E (YJ020693)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing in Action 
Category: 4
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: A6A "Intruder"
Other Personnel In Incident: John C. Ellison (missing) 


SYNOPSIS:   Employed by the Navy and Marine Corps since the big American build-up in 1965, the Grumman A6A Intruder all-weather attack aircraft first suffered serious problems with the aircraft's DIANE electronics system. After correcting these problems with the "black boxes," the Intruder performed admirably throughout the rest of the war. The Intruder was one of the only jet aircraft whose two-man crew sat side-by-side rather than in a front seat/back seat configuration.

On 24 March, 1967,  Lt. Cmdr. John C. "Buzz" Ellison, pilot; and Lt. JG James E. Plowman, bombardier/navigator; comprised the crew of an A6A Intruder that launched from the deck of the USS Kitty Hawk in a section of aircraft conducting a combat mission over North Vietnam. They were assigned to a strike/suppression mission to eliminate surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites that protected the Bac Giang Thermal Power Plant, Ha Bac Province, North Vietnam. The thermal power plant was also ringed by light, medium and heavy anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) batteries, and a garrison of well trained NVA troops armed with automatic weapons and small arms.

Lt. Cmdr. Ellison and Lt. JG Plowman requested, and were granted, clearance to initiate an attack pass. After pulling off target, Buzz Ellison reported "bombs away," then turned onto the pre-briefed egress heading. The Airborne Combat Information Officer tracked the Intruder on radar for roughly 11 miles as it headed north of the planned egress flight path.

At 1610 hours, the Intruder's radar signature disappeared from the scope. The aircraft's position was over densely populated rolling hills approximately 1 mile northwest of a road leading from an industrial center located 12 miles north of the major port city of Haiphong to the China boarder. This was also 28 miles southwest of the North Vietnamese/China border, 40 miles north-northeast of Haiphong and 73 miles northeast of Hanoi, Ha Bac Province, North Vietnam. Due to the location of loss being deep within enemy held territory, no search and rescue operation was possible. In spite of immediate unofficial reports suggesting that at least one and probably both of the crew were captured, Buzz Ellison and James Plowman were both listed Missing in Action.

On 5 August 1969, Seaman Douglas Hegdahl, the only American POW being held in North Vietnam to be ordered by the Senior Ranking POW to take an early release, was returned to US control. In his extensive debriefing, he reported Buzz Ellison as one of the American prisoners he saw while in captivity. Doug Hegdahl also met with Buzz Ellison's family to give them that information personally. Two other returned POWs contacted Lt. Cmdr. Ellison's family after Operation Homecoming to tell them they also saw his name carved in a tree at Dogpatch Prison Camp located near the Chinese border.

Further, Buzz Ellison was positively identified as a POW in a photograph shown to returned POW Lt.JG Robert Flynn by Chinese cadre while in captivity. Lt. Cmdr. Ellison appeared in good condition in the picture, which showed a group of 10-12 guarded American POWs being marched through a crowd of people. He also believed he saw James Plowman in another photograph he had been shown by the cadre. Robert Flynn was one of the few American POWs who were released by the Chinese in 1973. In his debriefing after Operation Homecoming, Lt. JG Flynn provided this information to the US government. He also provided this information directly to the families of Buzz Ellison and James Plowman.

There is no doubt Lt. Cmdr. Ellison and Lt. JG Plowman safely ejected their aircraft and that they were captured. If they died in captivity, each man has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if the Vietnamese or Chinese chose to hold them back after Operation Homecoming for whatever reason, their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way, there is no doubt the communists could return them or their remains any time they had the desire to do so.

Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Fighter pilots in Vietnam were called upon to fly and fight in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.