Thursday, July 29, 2010
In March 1951, President Truman attempted to end the Korean War with a cease-fire proposal and, in his belief, avoid World War III. General Douglas MacArthur voiced his opposition with his outspoken eagerness to escalate the war. He was promptly fired. Just five months later, Leavitt graduated from jet fighter pilot training and became fully engaged in the Korean War and in the U.S. Air Force.
“The afternoon I graduated and received my silver wings changed my emotions,” Leavitt writes. “Exhilaration was still there, but trepidation was gone. It had been replaced by confidence. A better Air Force lay ahead, and I would be part of it. I realized the Air Force was truly my home.”
Thus commenced the colorful, amazing 31 year military career of Lloyd R. “Dick” Leavitt—a lifework that spanned the Cold War, 100 missions in F-84’s during the Korean War, flying in the Strategic Air Command, and four years in the top-secret U2 project. He simultaneously flew a mission over the Soviet Union when Gary Powers was shot down over Siberia. He performed 152 combat missions in Viet Nam, was an eye-witness to the Cuban missile crisis, and later worked as a systems analyst for the Pentagon.
While much of Leavitt’s material is technical, his approach is informal and conversational. I found myself totally intrigued with his writing style and his easy manner of presenting scholarly information. While he writes from a tactical viewpoint, he peppers his material with anecdotes, letters to his wife and children, and, from time-to-time, confessions of personal flaws. I was on the edge of my seat when Leavitt recounted his “longest day,” when in flight from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to a destination in Brazil his U-2 had a complete electrical failure at 68,000 feet over the jungle.
“A strange emotion came over me,” Leavitt writes, “one that I had never experienced before. I knew there was no way out of this emergency. I would soon die.”
Flying by his wits, Leavitt managed to spot the Uruguay River and from that landmark he caught sight of Buenos Aires and managed to land safely. He had flown the disabled aircraft more than eight hours. When he finally landed, the U-2 had almost exhausted its fuel.
Leavitt retired from the Air Force on August 31, 1981. He continued to work as a consultant in private business for several more years. Following the Flag is published by the Air University Press.
This review was published July 29 in the Boerne Star and on November 27, San Antonio Express News