Norman S. Levy

21 April 1935 - 26 October 1966

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bullet13 August 1966 -
Lcdr George Tarrico/Lt(jg) Rick Grant/AX3 Gary Smith/ATR2 Arnie Hardin make an unopposed rescue of VF-111 Crusader pilot Lcdr Norman Levy flying off the USS Oriskany (CVA-34). His F-8E (BuNo 150866) went down in approximately the same area as Lt(jg) Balisteri did on 11 August. Tragically, Lcdr Levy was also killed in the fire aboard the Oriskany on 26 October 1966.
 
bulletRemember Lcdr Levy by visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Virtual Wall
 
bulletNorm Levy is remembered by his roommate on the USS Oriskany, Dr. Dick Schaffert, Captain USN (ret)

 

During McNamara and Johnson's Operation Rolling Thunder, Oriskany's Air Wing 16 suffered the highest loss rate of all naval aviation units in the Vietnam conflict. We made three deployments and launched over 44,800 missions from Yankee Station. We lost 86 of our assigned 64 combat aircraft and 72 of our assigned 78 Naval Aviators; 59 were killed and 13 captured or missing in action. The odds of a pilot surviving all three of those deployments were less than 30 percent. Flying combat from carriers is, by nature, totally voluntary. The sustained courage and dedicated professionalism of Air Wing 16 air crews, demonstrated during and after Rolling Thunder, convinced President Nixon that an all volunteer military was a viable option. He canceled the draft in1973. Sadly, we early volunteers have yet to receive acknowledgment or appreciation from the millions of American parents whose sons and daughters have been exempt from conscription for the last36 years because of our patriotic sacrifices.

I lost two wingmen and two roommates during Rolling Thunder. Realizing their loss would likely be ignored or forgotten by "modern-day" America, I began writing an annual Memorial Day letter to the roommate whose Navy career had paralleled mine. From 1967 to 1997, I simply burned the finished letters; Fighter Pilots describe a comrade's loss by using the term "smoked." However, thanks to Mr. Bill Gates, I've been able to email the last dozen letters to friends and other patriots who value their memories of those who died for our country. Having passed the actuarial age, this will be my last letter. It hasn't changed much. The cold hard facts of Vietnam and America's "protest generation" remain unchanged and unfortunately unrecorded.

Very Respectfully,

 

  Dr. Dick Schaffert, Captain USN (ret)
   
 

Lieutenant Commander Norm Levy

  Navy Fighter Squadron VF-111
   
  Good Morning, Norm
 

It's Memorial Day, 7:29am Tonkin Gulf time. Haven't talked with you in a while. The USS ORISKANY, that magnificent lady on which we went through hell together, has slipped away into the deep and now rests forever in silent waters off the Florida coast. Seems like a good day to make contact. This is the 43th year since I last saw you, sitting on the edge of your bunk in our room on ORISKANY. You remember . . . it was the 26th of October 1966. We were on the midnight schedule. There was a solid wall of thunderstorms over the beach, with tops to 50,000 feet; but McNamara's Pentagon planners kept sending us on "critical" missions all night. At 4:00am, they finally ran out of trucks to bomb - in that downpour - and we got a little sleep. The phone rang at seven; you were scheduled for the Alert Five. I had bagged a little more rack time than you, so I said I'd take it. I went to shave in the head around the elevator pit, the one near the flare locker. The ordnance men were busy putting away the flares. They'd been taking them out and putting them back all night, as the missions were continually changed. I finished shaving and started back to our room when the guy on the 1MC said: "This is a drill, this is a drill, FIRE, FIRE, FIRE!" I smelled smoke and looked back at the door that separated the pilot's quarters from the flare locker. Smoke was coming from underneath. I ran the last few steps to our room and turned on the light. You sat up on the edge of your bunk. I shouted at you: "Norm, this is no drill. Let's get the hell out of here!" I went down the passageway around the elevator pit, banging on the metal wall and shouting: "It's no drill. We're on fire! We're on fire!" I rounded the corner of that U-shaped passage as the flare locker exploded. The tremendous concussion blew me out of the passageway and onto the hangar deck. A huge ball of fire was rolling across the top of the hangar bay.

You and forty-five other guys, mostly Air Wing pilots, didn't make it, Norm. I'm sorry. Oh, God, I'm sorry! But we went home together: Norm Levy, a Jewish boy from Miami, and Dick Schaffert, a Lutheran cornhusker from Nebraska.

I rode in the economy class of that Flying Tigers 707, along with the few surviving pilots. You were in a flag-draped box in the cargo compartment. The San Diego media had found out about the return of us "Baby Killers." Lindberg Field was packed with scum enjoying the right to protest. The "right" you died for! There was a bus, with our wives, waiting for us - there was a black hearse for you. The protesters threw things at our bus and your hearse, not a policeman in sight. When we finally got off the airport, they chased us to Fort Rosecrans. Their obscene activities kept interrupting your graveside service, until your honor guard of three brave young Marines with rifles convinced them to stay back.

I watched the network news with my kids that night, Norm. Sorry, the only clips of our homecoming were the Baby Killer banners and bombs exploding in the South Vietnam jungle (Recall our operations were up North, against very heavily defended targets, where we were frequently knocked down and captured or killed). It was tough to explain to my four pre-teens. You know the rest of the story. The protesting scum were the media's heroes. They became CEO's, who steal from our companies - lawyers, who prey off our misery - doctors, whom we can't afford--and elected politicians, who break the faith and the promises.

The only military recognized as "heroes" were the POW's. They finally came home, not because of some politician's expertise, but because there were those of us who kept going back over Hanoi, again and again. Dodging the SAM's and the flak, attacking day and night, and keeping the pressure on - all by ourselves! Absolutely no support from anyone! Many of us didn't come home, Norm. You know . . . the guys that are up there with you now. But it was our "un-mentioned" efforts that brought the POW's home. We kept the faith with them, and with you, Norm. It never really ended. We seemed to go directly from combat into disabled retirement and poverty, ignored by those whose freedoms we insured by paying the very high premium. The only thing many of us have left is our memories, Norm, and we hold those dear! We'll all be joining you shortly. Put in a good word for us with the Man. Ask Him to think of us as His peacemakers, as His children. Have a restful Memorial Day, Fighter Pilot. You earned it.

Your Roomie,

  Dick Schaffert

Updated: 09/27/09