On May 15, 1970 (possibly May 14th), at the White House, President Richard Nixon presents Sgt. John L. Levitow with the Medal of Honor. Here is why he earned the nations highest award of valor in combat:
- Heroic action performed on February 24, 1969, over Long Binh Army Post in South Vietnam.
- He had been an Airman 1st Class and was the loadmaster on a Douglas AC-47 gunship.
- His aircraft had been supporting several Army units that were engaged in battle with North Vietnamese troops when an enemy mortar hit the aircraft’s right wing, exploding in the wing frame.
- Thousands of pieces of shrapnel ripped through the plane’s thin skin, wounding four of the crew.
- Levitow was struck forty times in his right side and even though he was bleeding heavily from these wounds, he threw himself on an activated, smoking magnesium flare, dragged himself and the flare to the open cargo door, and tossed the flare out of the aircraft just before it ignited.
- His actions saved his fellow crewmembers and the gunship
Airman Levitow was one of only two enlisted airmen to win the Medal of Honor for service in Vietnam and was one of only five enlisted airmen ever to win the medal, the first since the Second World War.
This is the Medal of Honor citation
Medal of Honor
LEVITOW, JOHN L.
Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Air Force, 3rd Special Operations Squadron
Place and date: Long Binh Army Post, Republic of Vietnam, 24 February 1969
Entered service at: New Haven, Connecticut
Born: 1 November 1945, Hartford, Connecticut
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 load master 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 crew member 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 fellow men, 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.