No Shortage of Heroes

No Shortage of Heroes

Posted by This content is courtesy of The American Patriot's Almanac © 2008, 2010 by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb on 28th Feb 2019

On this day in 1969, Airman First Class John Levitow was lying in a hospital bed, his body covered with forty shrapnel wounds, trying to piece together exactly how he had ended up there. Meanwhile, seven Air Force buddies in South Vietnam were telling themselves they wouldn’t be alive if not for Levitow’s courage.

Four days earlier, the eight men had flown a night combat mission over South Vietnam aboard an AC-47 gunship, dropping magnesium flares to illuminate enemy positions on the ground. Each flare had a safety pin. Twenty seconds after the pin was pulled and the flare was tossed out a cargo door, it would ignite to 4,000˚ Fahrenheit, lighting up the countryside.

In the fifth hour of the mission, a Vietcong mortar hit the plane, blasting a hole through a wing and nearly wrenching the gunship out of the sky. Levitow, wounded in the back and legs, had just dragged a bleeding crewmate away from the open cargo door when he saw a smoking flare roll across the floor amid ammunition canisters. Its pin had been pulled.

Levitow tried to grab the flare, but it skidded away. In desperation, he threw himself on top. Hugging it to his chest, he dragged himself to the plane’s rear, leaving a trail of blood, and hurled the flare through the door. An instant later it burst into a white-hot blaze, but free of the aircraft.

Levitow recovered and went on to fly twenty more combat missions. In 1970 he received the Medal of Honor, an award he accepted with humility. “There are many people who have served, who have done things that have been simply amazing and never been recognized,” he said – a good reminder that the U.S. military has no shortage of heroes.