CT Jewish War Veterans post honors a hometown hero

By Cindy Mindell

Sgt. John L. Levitow

Sgt. John L. Levitow

HARTFORD – This year’s Connecticut Veterans Parade marked the debut of the Sgt. John L. Levitow Post 45 of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America (JWV).

Formerly the Hartford-Laurel Post, the result of a merger between the Hartford and West Hartford posts in the early ‘50s, the new name was approved last year at JWV’s annual national executive committee convention in Washington, D.C. The name change was first proposed two years ago by Jerry Blum of Bloomfield, former commander of the Department of Connecticut JWV and currently a member of the JWV national executive committee.

“The Hartford Post was named after the town and the Laurel Post – we don’t know; we think it’s the state flower because we don’t know of anyone named Laurel at the time, so it has very little meaning to anyone,” says Blum. “Many of the posts are named for people who were post members or heroes, and we have many heroes in our post,” says Blum. “John Levitow is special because he’s a Medal of Honor recipient and known nationally for what he did, which is why we chose him.” Levitow was also a member of the Hartford-Laurel Post.

For a year, Blum and then-post commander Elliott Donn discussed the idea with fellow post members and at statewide JWV meetings, and found unanimous approval. “John Levitow was the true modern Connecticut hero,” Blum says.

Born in Hartford in 1945, Levitow grew up in Glastonbury and graduated from Glastonbury High School, enlisting in the U.S. Air Force in 1966.

At the Connecticut Veteran’s Parade on Nov. 2 in downtown Hartford: Sgt. John L. Levitow Post Commander Jerry Baggish (left) and JWV Dept. of CT Commander Marty Levitz (right).

At the Connecticut Veteran’s Parade on Nov. 2 in downtown Hartford: Sgt. John L. Levitow Post Commander Jerry Baggish (left) and JWV Dept. of CT Commander Marty Levitz (right).

Airman Levitow was presented with the Medal of Honor by Pres. Richard M. Nixon in 1970, the first and lowest ranking member of the U.S. Air Force ever to receive the award for his heroism in saving his aircraft and crew over Long Binh, Vietnam in February 1969. He was subsequently promoted to sergeant and returned to Vietnam for a second tour and another 20 combat missions. After his discharge in 1974, Levitow returned to Connecticut to devote his professional life to Air Force enlistees and veterans, traveling around the world to speak with service members. He also worked on behalf of veterans as a VA Congressional liaison, benefits counselor, and chief of medical administration at the Newington VA Medical Center, and as assistant to the commissioner at the Connecticut Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

He eventually relocated to the Connecticut State Veterans’ Home in Rocky Hill, where he died from cancer in 2000, at age 55. He was buried with military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

The JWV post is just the latest to honor Levitow’s name. The John Levitow Award is the highest honor presented to a graduate of U.S. Air Force Noncommissioned Officer Academies. In 1998, the Air Force named a C-17 Globemaster III plane “The Spirit of Sgt. John L. Levitow,” the first time a plane was named for a military enlistee. That same year, he was inducted into the Airlift/Tanker Hall of Fame.

The 737th Training Group Headquarters building at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Tex. is named in his honor. His name is included among the Medal of Honor recipients on the Walk of Fame at the Air Force installation, Hurlburt Field, in Florida. Bridge No. 3162 on West Street in Rocky Hill was renamed the “John L. Levitow Memorial Bridge” in 2001, and the Town of Glastonbury erected a monument to Levitow on the town green in 2004. Levitow was inducted posthumously into the Connecticut Veterans Hall of Fame in 2008, the same year the new Sgt. John L. Levitow Veterans’ Health Center was dedicated at the Connecticut State Veterans’ Home in Rocky Hill.

His profile is included in the Hall of Heroes at the National Museum of American Jewish Military History in Washington, D.C.

Led by post commander Jerry Baggish, the Sgt. John L. Levitow Post holds regular meetings at the Mandell JCC and stores materials in the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford archives. Copies of each member’s military history are also part of the National Museum of American Jewish Military History archives.

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