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Airman 1st Class John L. Levitow

Airman 1st Class John Levitow in an AC-47. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Airman 1st Class John Levitow in an AC-47. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Spooky 71 the morning after Airman 1st Class John Levitow’s Medal of Honor mission. The mortar shell blew a hole through the right wing, shattered several windows and sent thousands of fragments into the fuselage. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Spooky 71 the morning after Airman 1st Class John Levitow’s Medal of Honor mission. The mortar shell blew a hole through the right wing, shattered several windows and sent thousands of fragments into the fuselage. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Medal of Honor Mission over South Vietnam

On the night of Feb. 24, 1969, Airman 1st Class John Levitow was the loadmaster aboard AC-47 "Spooky 71." The gunship was circling over the U.S. Army post at Long Binh, firing at nearby enemy troops and illuminating their positions with flares. An enemy mortar round hit the aircraft and exploded in the wing. Levitow and four other crewmen were badly wounded, and the aircraft was riddled with fragments.

As Levitow dragged an unconscious crewman away from the open door, he spotted a smoking, armed flare. Despite more than 40 wounds and the partial loss of feeling in his right leg, Levitow grasped the 27-pound MK-24 flare and crawled toward the door.

Spooky 71 was partially out of control and banking to the right. Just after Levitow pushed the flare out, it ignited. Levitow then lost consciousness. Had the 4,000°F magnesium flare ignited inside the gunship, the aircraft and its seven-man crew would have been lost. Spooky 71 made a successful emergency landing despite 3,500 fragment holes and a seriously-damaged right wing.

John Levitow received the Medal of Honor for his heroism, and he flew 20 more combat missions after recovering from his wounds. Levitow, who died in 2000, was one of only three enlisted Airmen to receive the Medal of Honor for action in Southeast Asia.

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