Legendary Naval Aviator's
Memorial Day Tribute
to a Squadron Mate

Lieutenant Commander Norman S. Levy, US Navy, Deceased (1934-1966) 
Navy Fighter Squadron VF-111

Good morning, Norm,

It's Memorial Day, 07:29 Tonkin Gulf time.

Haven't talked with you for a while. That magnificent lady on which we went through hell together, USS ORISKANY, has slipped away into the deep and now rests forever in silent waters off the Florida coast.

Recall we shared a 6' by 9' stateroom aboard her during McNamara and Johnson's ill-fated Rolling Thunder, while our Air Wing 16 suffered the highest loss rate of any naval aviation unit in the Vietnam conflict.

Three combat deployments, between May '65 and January '68, resulted in 86 aircraft lost from the 64 assigned to us [no, that's not a typo]; while 59 of our aviators were killed and 13 captured or missing from Oriskany's assignment of 74 combat pilots.

Our statistical probability of surviving Rolling Thunder, where the tactics and targets were designated by combat-illiterate politicians, was less than 30%. The probability of a combat pilot being an atheist approached zero!

Seems like a good day to make contact again. I've written every year since I threw that "nickel on the grass" for you.  For several years, it was only a handwritten note ... which I ceremoniously burned to simulate your being "smoked."

With the advent of the internet, I shared annual emails to you with some of our colleagues. Unfortunately, the net's now a cesspool of idiocy! Much of it generated by those 16 million draft dodgers who avoided Vietnam to occupy and unionize America's academia; where they clearly succeeded in "dumbing down" an entire generation which now controls the heartless soul of a corrupt "Hollywoodized" media.

This will be my last letter. I'm praying Gabriel will soon fly my wing once more, and I look forward to delivering it to you personally.

This is the 47th year since I last saw you, sitting on the edge of your bunk in our stateroom. You remember ... it was the 26th of October 1966 and we were on the midnight-to-noon schedule.

There was a wall of thunderstorms over North Vietnam, with tops to 50,000 feet, but McNamara's civilian planners kept sending us on "critical" missions all night. At 04:00 they finally ran out of trucks to bomb, in that downpour, and we got a little sleep.

Our phone rang at seven; you were scheduled for the Alert Five. I'd 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 McNamara's "whiz kids" continually changed the targets.

I had finished shaving and started back to our room when the guy on the 1MC (ship's loudspeaker) screamed: "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 storage 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 and I shouted: "Norm, this is no drill. Let's get the hell out of here!"

I went down the passage way around the elevator pit, banging on the sheet 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 when the flare locker exploded. There was a tremendous concussion effect that blew me out of the passage way and onto the hangar deck. A huge ball of fire was rolling along 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, dear God, I am 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 other few surviving pilots. You were in a flag-draped box in the cargo compartment.

Unfortunately, the scum media had publicized the return of us "Baby Killers," and Lindbergh Field was packed with vile demonstrators enjoying the right to protest. The "right" you died for!

Our wives were waiting in a bus to meet our plane. There was a black hearse for you.

The protestors threw rocks and eggs at our bus and your hearse; not a policeman in sight. When we finally got off the airport, they chased us to Fort Rosecrans.

They tried interrupting your graveside service, until your honor guard of three brave young Marines with rifles convinced them to stay back.

I watched the TV news with my family that night, Norm. Sorry, the only clips of our homecoming were the "Baby Killer" banners and bombs exploding in the South Vietnam jungle ... although our operations were up North, against heavily defended targets, where we were frequently shot down and captured or killed. It was tough to explain all that to my four pre-teen children.

You know the rest of the story: The vulgar demonstrators were the media's heroes. They became the CEO's, who steal from our companies ... the lawyers, who prey off our misery ... the doctors, whom we can't afford ... the 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 any politician's self-aggrandized 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 ... keeping the pressure on ... all by ourselves! Absolutely no support from anyone!

Many of us didn't come home, Norm. You know; the guys who 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.

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 that bloody premium.

Our salary, as highly educated-combat proven Naval officers and fighter pilots, was about the same as what the current administration bestows as a "minimum" wage upon the millions of today's low-information, unmotivated, clueless graduates.

Many of them lounge at home on unemployment rolls and feed off the taxes that we pay on our military retirements; which are 80% less than what the current All Volunteer Force receives and from which we have already lost 26% of our buying power to pencil-sharpening bureaucrats who "adjust" the economic data.

Do you remember, Norm? We got 55 bucks a month for flying combat; precisely $2.99 for each of the 276 missions I flew off Yankee Station.

Can you believe America's new All Volunteer Force, which recently fought a war with a casualty rate less than 10% of ours ... and only 1% of WWII ... , received more than $1,000 a month combat pay from a guilt-ridden Congress, which trusts paid mercenaries more than old-fashioned American patriotic courage.

The families of those of us who were killed in Vietnam got $10,000 of life insurance. Today's survivors get $100,000!

Unfortunately, the gutless liberalism of today's elected officials has created the worst of all possible situations: Our socially engineered, under-funded military couldn't presently fight its way out of a wet Chinese paper lantern!  [Ed. note: . . . unless the politicians in Washington get out of the way and let the warfighters do their jobs.]

The politically adjusted report, issued for the 100th Anniversary of U.S. Naval Aviation, confirmed that we, and our brothers who flew in Korea, have been written out of American history.  [What a despicable travesty!]

Norm, I only hope that today's over-paid bureaucratic "dudes" who cook the books, scramble the facts, and push the propaganda for their political puppet-masters, will not be able to scrub your name off the Wall. The Wall and our memories are the only things many of us have left.

We hold those memories dear! We band together in groups like the Crusader Association, which is still hosting its "Last Annual" reunion.

Some say the association has to do with flying a peculiar aircraft, I say it has to do with a peculiar bunch of guys. We're damned few now!

After 5,000 hours flying simulated and actual combat, and pulling at least 5 g's more than 25,000 times, those who are still around have ultrasounds resembling haunted houses on Halloween; with nerve bundles sagging like cobwebs, leaking valves, and ruptured pipes.

We'll all be seeing you shortly, Norm. 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. You earned it, Fighter Pilot.

Very Respectfully,

Your Roommate, Dick (Brown Bear) Schaffert

14 May 2014

Norm was killed on 26 October '66. Exactly one year later, we were again back on Yankee Station.

After flying my 4th mission against Hanoi in 3 days, I rose from a restless night to scribble a note to Norm. I folded it into a paper airplane; then walked back to the Oriskany's fantail, lit the paper on fire, and launched it into the darkness above the ship's wake.

Norm and I would both have turned 80 in 2014 ... so, due to natural causes, this will be the last of the 47 annual letters I've written to him.

During McNamara and Johnson's Operation Rolling Thunder,

USS 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 [that's not a typo - as aircraft were lost, they were replaced when possible, and some of those were lost as well] and 72 of our assigned 78 Naval Aviators; 59 were killed and 13 were 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 in 1973. 

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 last 36 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 <b>annual Memorial Day letter to the roommate whose Navy career had paralleled mine</b>. 

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.  With the help of friends and mutual acquaintances over the years, my original note has expanded into a perhaps "too lengthy" letter.

The cold hard facts of Vietnam and America's "protest generation" remain unchanged and, unfortunately, unrecorded.

Very Respectfully,
Dr. Dick Schaffert
Captain USN (Ret.)

We'd like to express our gratitude to legendary naval aviator Dick Schaffert for granting us permission to publish his annual Memorial Day letter to his friend and fellow fighter pilot, LCDR Norm Levy. 

The two men joined the Sundowners of VF-111 late in 1965.  Just a few weeks before perishing in the fire onboard USS ORISKANY, LCDR Levy had been shot down and rescued.

A little more than a year after the fire onboard ORISKANY, Dick Schaffert became a legend in naval aviation

In December 1967, Schaffert piloted his F-8C Crusader over North Vietnam, escorting an A-4 piloted by Lt(jg) Chuck Nelson on an Iron Hand mission.

The A-4 was preparing to attack a radar with one of its Shrike anti-radar missiles when Schaffert noticed two MiG-17s converging on the A-4. As Schaffert turned to engage, he suddenly noticed two more MiG-17s attacking him from out of the sun. Two MiG-21's would join the fight just long enough to launch 4 Atoll missiles towards Schaffert's F-8.  [If you're counting that's 6 v. 1!] Thankfully, they all went wide.

For 10 minutes, 45 seconds (an eternity in aerial dogfights, which usually averaged about 45 seconds), Schaffert out-maneuvered the MiGs, and earned his well-deserved place in naval aviation history without scoring a kill. 

Schaffert had fired his three Sidewinder missiles.  The first should have been a kill, but failed to detonate due to a defective proximity fuze, the second went wide, and he didn't have time to see what happened to the third.  The customary fourth Sidewinder had to be downloaded before takeoff, after failing its pre-flight check. 

Schaffert switched to guns, only to learn that both guns had jammed due to his high-speed maneuvering.  [Ruh-roh!]

Thanks to his outstanding airmanship and the superior performance of an aircraft loved by those who flew her, Dick Schaffert out-maneuvered his experienced and determined adversaries, and lived to tell the story of one Crusader vs. 6 MiGs

He landed onboard ORISKANY with 300 pounds of fuel remaining, not enough for another go-around.  [If that fuel gauge reading was accurate, he had about 3 minutes of fuel remaining, as the F-8  burned around 100 pounds per minute in the landing pattern.  A typical go-around would take 4-5 minutes.]

When You're Out of F-8's, You're Out of Fighters!
We're privileged to know a number of those great Crusader pilots, and they have remained close friends through the years, gathering often to remember and celebrate. There's just something about the bonds of brotherhood forged in combat that can't be replicated anywhere else. The Crusader is known as "The Last of the Gunfighters." And the motto of F-8 pilots everywhere is,

"When you're out of F-8's,
you're out of fighters!"

These men, and those who served with them, are heroes who should be honored for their courage, their dedication, and their sacrifices, which enable us to enjoy today the freedoms they defended for us and others.

Please join us this Memorial Day in honoring and remembering

all our fallen heroes, who sacrificed all their tomorrows

so that you and I might enjoy ours in freedom.

Captain Schaffert was featured in "The Last Gunfighter" series on The History Channel, where you can see a thrilling video re-enactment of his famous dogfight, starting at 24:37 in this episode of "The Last Gunfighter."

Watch this video of divers going out to place a heavy bronze plaque containing parts of Capt. Schaffert's last annual letter to his friend on the sunken hull of USS Oriskany, which was intentionally sunk as an artificial reef.

Dick Schaffert flew 276 missions over North Vietnam and received 35 decorations, including three awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After serving in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and on the Ambassador's Country Team in the Philippines, he served as Director of Policy Studies at NATO Military Headquarters. He is currently a consultant for Eastern European law enforcement officials.

His academic work, Media Coverage and Political Terrorists (Praeger: New York and London, 1992), was was recently cited by Harvard's JFK School of Government as a major book in the genre and is on the required reading list for Ph.D.'s at major universities.  Schaffert reports he is honored that a copy of his book sits on the desk of Freddie Humphries, the FBI's Supervisory Agent on the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Tampa. 

Schaffert is also the author of several other books, including Loyalty, Betrayal, and other Contact Sports, a fictionalized account of his post-Vietnam exploits, first published in 1999.

Read more about the F-8 Crusader in Vietnam.

We'd like to thank legendary Naval Aviator Dick Schaffert for allowing us to share with you his 47th Annual Memorial Day letter to his USS Oriskany roommate, LCDR Norm Levy.

We join him in remembering and honoring LCDR Levy, and all those thousands like him, who gave up all their tomorrows so that we might enjoy ours in peace and freedom.  They've earned our respect and our gratitude.

Additional Memorial Day Reading:

Taking Chance.

We Are the Nation, a stirring and inspiring prayer written by departed friend and naval aviation legend CDR John "Bug" Roach, 1944-1991.

A memorial tribute to the father I never met, by Bill Knudsen.

The Pearl Harbor Memorial honors those who lost their lives on December 7, 1941, in the surprise Japanese attack on U.S. soil.

Before You Go, a musical tribute to The Greatest Generation, veterans of World War II. New versions pay tribute to other warriors.

Vietnam veterans are unique as the only group of combat veterans in the history of this great country who returned home to be reviled, vilified and abused rather than honored and appreciated. They are one of the most unjustly-maligned groups in American history. Learn some surprising truths about the war in Viet Nam and those who fought there. The media got it all wrong. Take a moment to share your Vietnam stories, post a tribute to a fellow service member or loved one who didn't make it home, or post your thanks to America's most under-appreciated veterans. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the form.

It Is the Soldier

What Is A Veteran?

Take a moment to post your own message of thanks to our troops. You'll find the form at the bottom of that page.


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