Walter Levasseur a former master sergeant in the U.S. Army, served two tours of duty in Vietnam in 1967 and 1970. By the time he was through, he had received the Purple Heart with an oak leaf cluster for being wounded a second time, the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars — one for valor the other for meritorious service — and the Air Medal for going on 25 combat missions in a helicopter.
As a 32-year-old Private 1st class, Levasseur was a member of Company D, 1st Battalion, 8th Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division at Dak To, South Vietnam in November 1967 when he ran into a North Vietnamese Army unit in the bush.
“My unit moved into the area and built a fire base. Our undersize squad of six or seven men was sent out on patrol,” said the 74-year-o;d Rotonda man who lives south of Englewood, Fla.
“We got hit by an NVA (North Vietnam Army) force that came in from Cambodia. Almost immediately our platoon sergeant was killed and our radio was knocked out of commission. Two others were badly wounded.
“I took over the unit and realized we had no communication back to our base. All of a sudden the enemy fire stopped, and the NVA that attacked us headed for our fire base.
“While not under fire, I spent my time trying to take care of the two wounded. It was very difficult because they were badly wounded.
“Our artillery was firing at the NVA who were falling back toward Cambodia. The NVA used the same jungle path we were on to retreat. All the time they were under fire, the same fire was coming in on us, too,” he said.
Shrapnel from one of the rounds from the American guns hit Levasseur in the leg. He sustained minor injuries.
“I was out of ammunition and was holding a hand grenade as I squatted down in the brush. When the artillery fire began, one of the NVA was on his knees looking right at me a few feet away.
“I let the grenade go and took cover. It didn’t kill him, but he was wounded in the blast,” Levasseur said. “We waited for a while, but there was no more fighting going on. I told the two other soldiers in our squad who weren’t wounded, ‘We have to get out of here.’
“We left the other two badly injured men on the battlefield and headed back to the fire base. There was nothing else we could do. Without the radio, it was hard to get back to the base without getting ourselves killed, but we did,” he said. “We came back and got the two men we had left behind, but they were dead by then.
“I feel bad to this day about leaving those men. I think about it quite often, but I don’t talk about it,” Levasseur said.
The final paragraph in the commendation accompanying the Silver Star he received for gallantry under fire reads: “Private 1st Class Levasseur ‘s profound concern for the welfare of his fellow comrades and his gallant actions are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.”
“Two months later I was in another skirmish with the NVA during my first trip to Vietnam in 1967,” Levasseur said. “We stopped the enemy from moving forward and protected our troops from attack. I got a Bronze Star with a ‘V’ for valor for that engagement.”
Levasseur’s second Bronze Star was awarded for meritorious service during his second tour.
“In December 1970 I returned to Vietnam as a sergeant and a division recon adviser. It sometimes got kind of hairy. We made numerous assaults — me, a couple of officers and 30 to 40 Vietnamese soldiers.
“Our main mission was to call in artillery and Apache helicopter fire on the enemy,” he said. “One time we were in the field with our recon platoon when all hell broke loose about 3 a.m. with the enemy. We would have all been overrun and killed if it hadn’t been for ‘Puff the Magic Dragon.’ Once our gunship opened up on the NVA, they stopped shooting at us. A number of our South Vietnamese soldiers were killed in this incident.”
Levasseur served 26 years in the Army. He first enlisted in 1954 as a 20-year-old recruit from Maine. After four years of service, he got out for a while. He went back in the Army in 1967 and after basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., he was immediately sent to Vietnam.
He and his wife, Marianna, retired to Rotonda in 1985. A short while later, Levasseur went to work for the post office. For 20 years he was a letter carrier who worked out of the post office in Murdock until he retired for good three years ago.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Monday, June 1, 2009 and is republished with permission.
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