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John Levitow


By Harry J. Bright


In times of life threatening danger, ordinary people will perform extraordinary acts of bravery. The story of John Levitow exemplifies this statement completely.


Airman First Class John L. Levitow was a loadmaster


on one of the C-47 gunships flying out of Bien Hoa, South Vietnam. As part of his loadmaster duties, John would set the ejection and ignition controls on the Mark-24 Magnesium Flares. He would then hand the flare to the gunner to be tossed out the cargo door after releasing the safety pin. These flares were used for night time illumination for the ground troops; for incoming fighter planes to see their targets; and to allow the pilot of the gunship to see his target area. The flare was three feet long, weighed twenty seven pounds, burns at approximately 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and gave illumina- tion of 2,000,000 candlepower. When they were tossed out of the cargo door an attached parachute would open, and


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then the flare would ignite giving up to three minutes of illumination.


On the night of February 24, 1969, after flying a four


and a half hour mission, Spooky 71 was directed to the Long Binh Army Base, a few miles northeast of Saigon. The base was under a heavy mortar attack from enemy forces and was in need of fire support from the gun ship. Major Kenneth Carpenter, the pilot of Spooky 71, flew in and engaged the enemy with the aircraft’s three 7.62 mini guns. He was fly- ing in at 1,000 feet altitude, low enough to inflict maximum damage. An enemy 82-mm mortar hit the plane’s right wing and exploded, leaving a large hole approximately two feet in diameter in the wing. Over 3,500 pieces of shrapnel went


Fall 2011 │ AIR COMMANDO JOURNAL │ 53


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