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First Name: John

Last Name: Levitow

Birthplace: Harfort, CT, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Air Force (1947 - present)

Middle Name: Lee

Date of Birth: 01 November 1945

Date of Death: 08 November 2000


Years Served: 1966-1970
John Lee Levitow

•  Vietnam War (1960 - 1973)


John Lee Levitow
Sergeant, U.S. Air Force
Medal of Honor Recipient
Vietnam War

Sergeant John Lee Levitow (1 November 1945 - 8 November 2000), was a U.S. Air Force AC-47 gunship loadmaster for the 3d Special Operations Squadron who received the Medal of Honor for exceptional heroism during the Vietnam War.

John Lee Levitow was born on 1 November 1945 in Hartford, CT. He originally intended to join the U.S. Navy, but changed his mind and joined the Air Force. His first job was civil engineering, then he cross-trained into the loadmaster career field.

On 24 February 1969, Levitow was asked to fill in for the regular loadmaster on an armed AC-47 named "Spooky 71." They were flying night missions near the Tan Son Nhut Air base area when Long Binh came under attack. It was Airman Levitow's job to set the ejection and ignition controls on Mark 24 magnesium flares and pass to the gunner. These flares were three-foot-long, 27 pound metal tubes that would burn at 4000 degrees, illuminate with intensity of two million candlepower and burn for more than a minute.

As they were patrolling the area, the pilot, Kenneth Carpenter, of "Spooky 71" had seen muzzle flashes outside Long Binh Army Base. The pilot threw the AC-47 and its eight-man crew into a turn to engage the Viet Cong in the Tan Son Nhut Air Base area.

On the pilot's command, the gunner pulled the safety pin and tossed the flare through the open cargo door. 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 wing frame. The blast raked the fuselage with flying shrapnel. Everyone in the back of Spooky 71 was wounded, including Levitow who was hit by shrapnel that he was quoted as saying "felt like being hit by a two-by-four."

Despite his wounds, Levitow saw a loose, burning Mark 24 flare had been knocked free in the fuselage and was rolling amid ammunition cans that contained 19,000 rounds of live ammunition.

Through a haze of pain and shock, Levitow, with 40 shrapnel wounds in his legs, side and back, and fighting a 30-degree bank; crawled to the flare and threw himself upon it. Hugging it to his body, he dragged himself back to the rear of the aircraft and hurled it through the open cargo door 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.

Medal of Honor

Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Air Force, 3d Special Operations Squadron.

Place and date: Long Binh Army post, Republic of Vietnam, 24 February 1969.

Entered service at: New Haven, CT. Born: 1 November 1945, Hartford, CT.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Sgt. Levitow (then A1c.), U.S. Air Force, distinguished himself by exceptional heroism while assigned as a loadmaster aboard an AC-47 aircraft flying a night mission in support of Long Binh Army post. Sgt. Levitow's aircraft was struck by a hostile mortar round. The resulting explosion ripped a hole 2 feet in diameter through the wing and fragments made over 3,500 holes in the fuselage. All occupants of the cargo compartment were wounded and helplessly slammed against the floor and fuselage. The explosion tore an activated flare from the grasp of a crewmember who had been launching flares to provide illumination for Army ground troops engaged in combat. Sgt. Levitow, though stunned by the concussion of the blast and suffering from over 40 fragment wounds in the back and legs, staggered to his feet and turned to assist the man nearest to him who had been knocked down and was bleeding heavily. As he was moving his wounded comrade forward and away from the opened cargo compartment door, he saw the smoking flare ahead of him in the aisle. Realizing the danger involved and completely disregarding his own wounds, Sgt. Levitow started toward the burning flare. The aircraft was partially out of control and the flare was rolling wildly from side to side. Sgt. Levitow struggled forward despite the loss of blood from his many wounds and the partial loss of feeling in his right leg. Unable to grasp the rolling flare with his hands, he threw himself bodily upon the burning flare. Hugging the deadly device to his body, he dragged himself back to the rear of the aircraft and hurled the flare through the open cargo door. At that instant the flare separated and ignited in the air, but clear of the aircraft. Sgt. Levitow, by his selfless and heroic actions, saved the aircraft and its entire crew from certain death and destruction. Sgt. Levitow's gallantry, his profound concern for his fellowmen, at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.

Levitow received the Medal of Honor from President Richard Nixon on Armed Forces Day, 14 May 1970.

After Levitow left the Air Force, he worked in the field of Veteran's Affairs for more than 22 years. At the time of his death he was in Connecticut, developing and designing veteran programs.


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.

Death and Burial

Sergeant John Lee Levitow died of cancer on 8 November 2000. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA. His grave can be found in Section 66, Site 7107, Map Grid DD/17.

Honoree ID: 1011   Created by: MHOH




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