February 24, 1969 saw then Airman First Class Levitow filling in for a different crew on an AC-47 Spooky aerial gunship, callsign "Spooky 71". Spooky 71's aircraft commander, Kenneth Carpenter observed muzzle flashes on the ground during the night mission. He turned the aircraft to bring the three 7.62mm miniguns to bear on the enemy.
While he was turning, the aircrew in the rear was preparing to eject an illumination flare to make aiming the guns easier. Spooky 71 was struck in the starboard wing by an 82mm mortar shell. The blast from the shell peppered the fuselage of the plane with shrapnel. Many of the crew - Levitow included - were wounded. While the shell blast was highly damaging, it was not catastrophic but catastrophe for Spooky 71's crew was imminent. In the blast's aftermath, the safety pin on the illumination flare was pulled and the flare started to burn. There were just seconds before the flare would detonate, cooking off the thousands of rounds of ammunition for the guns and destroying the aircraft and dooming the crew.
Ignoring his pain and daze from the shell blast, John Levitow saved his plane and her crew. His act of supreme courage at unbelievable personal risk resulted in his decoration with our Nation's highest honor.
From Medal of Honor Citaions for the Vietnam War (A-L):