At the White House, President Richard Nixon presents Sgt. John L. Levitow with the Medal of Honor for heroic action performed on February 24, 1969, over Long Binh Army Post in South Vietnam. Then an Airman 1st Class, Levitow 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; although 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. For saving his fellow crewmembers and the gunship, Airman Levitow was nominated for the nation’s highest award for valor in combat. He 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 World War II.
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