The John Levitow Story

This is for my fellow “Fly Boys”. It happened last Sunday in 1969. I was wrapping up high school. It was at toward the middle of the Vietnam War (not conflict thank you). There was a young cargo handler Airman named John Levitow on board. His aircraft was the Spooky 71. It was flying night missions near the Tan Son Nhut Air base area when Long Binh came under attack. As the crew of Spooky 71 manned their aircraft patrolling the area, the pilot Major Kenneth Carpenter had seen muzzle flashes outside Long Binh Army Base. The pilot threw the AC-47 and its eight-man crew into a banked turn to engage the Viet Cong in the Tan Son Nhut Air Base area.

On the pilot’s command, Levitow and the gunner began deploying flares through the open cargo door. Levitow set the timers and handed a flare to the gunner, who held it with his finger through the pull ring attached to the safety pin. Suddenly, Spooky 71 was jarred by a tremendous explosion. A North Vietnamese Army’s 82-millimeter mortar shell hit the right wing and exploded inside the structure, raking the fuselage with flying shrapnel. Everyone in the back of Spooky 71 was wounded, including Levitow who was hit by shrapnel and concussion that he was quoted as saying “felt like being hit by a two-by-four.” The blast also jarred the flare from the gunner’s hands, pulling the safety pin from the canister as it did so and arming the fuse.

Despite 40 wounds in his back and legs, Levitow saw the loose flare, its fuse burning with clouds of smoke, rolling amid ammunition cans that contained 19,000 rounds of live ammunition. When the flare exploded it would detonate the ammunition and burn a hole through the floor to the aircraft’s control cables below. Through a haze of pain and shock, unable to stand up, and fighting the aircraft’s 30-degree bank angle, Levitow crawled to the flare and threw himself upon it. Hugging it to his body, he dragged himself back to the rear of the cabin and pushed it through the open cargo door an instant before it ignited, saving the aircraft and its crew.

When the aircraft finally returned to the base, the extent of the damage became apparent. The AC-47 had more than 3,500 holes in the wings and fuselage, one measuring more than three feet long.

Levitow received the Medal of Honor from President Richard Nixon on, May 14, 1970, on Armed Forces Day. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. A C-17 Globemaster III was named after him on January 23, 1998, “The Spirit of John L. Levitow”.

The John Levitow Award is the highest honor presented to a graduate of Air Force Enlisted Professional Military Education (PME), including Airman Leadership School, NCO Academy, and the Senior NCO Academy. To be eligible for the award, a graduate must rank in the top 1% of his or her class. I was a smart young NCO at the NCO Academy in 1987 but one guy was smarter. I wanted that so bad LOL.

A reminder, Department of Oklahoma in OKC has Legion 100th Anniversary coins for sale at $10 each. We will try and get some and offer them to the public for $15 each.

Next Legion Meeting will be Thursday March 1st at 7:00 PM. We will have a meal starting at 6:00 PM, cooked by Chef Jerry Sebert. Not sure what it will be, but it will be good!
Monday morning Koffee Klatch meetings in March are still scheduled for biscuits and gravy with always a cup of Joe (coffee to the civilians). Keep your eye on the weather in case things must be postponed (like freezing weather). If you are a veteran come on by. If you have a good story it may end up in print. Also keep up with us at website “americanlegion142.org”.

 

About Gary Lanham

Authors the weekly article "News from the Hut", about local American Legion Post #142 in Hominy, OK. Read his weekly articles in the "Hominy News Progress".
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