A Vet Visit I’ll Never Forget

In late 2012 I was fortunate enough to interview a 93 year old WWII Veteran.  His story is amazing on many levels and I would like to dedicate this page of my website to him – First Lieutenant Irving B. Levick, 321st Glider Field Artillery Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division.  His nick name was “Flip” for a very good reason as you will learn…

A few weeks before I met Mr. Levick, I purchased his WWII personal effects that have helped me see into a window of history like I never expected.  His nickname “Flip” is on many of his items and photos.  He was an acrobat, through and through!

When I sat down at his bed in the nursing home, I was more than ready to hear his story.  It’s too bad I did not meet Mr. Levick before he got to this advanced age.  For him to recall the past did not seem too difficult, but the bonds of an aged body soon left him fatigued an exhausted.  I did not get his full story, but I got quite an ear full from a true American Hero.

Mr. Levick was born in 1919, Philadelphia, PA.  In Jr. High School, he took a tumbling class and really enjoyed it.  He joined a Talent Show type act that came near his area at a very young age.  When I asked “how old were you then?” He said; “I remember having my school letters on my sweater, so I was in high school”.  The reason I go into that detail is in going through one of his boxes, I found one of those school letters, “H”!  He joined the Circus after that and he was truly in his element.

We spent a lot of time talking about his acrobat days as he obviously enjoyed those times.  When we got to the Military, he got a little slower and when we got to Normandy, he got noticeably quieter.  Not only was he exhausted, he was recalling things he had not thought of in about 70 years and I feel pretty sure he was recalling things he had never told anyone.  His son told me his Dad never talked about the war much, so what we heard that day was like pure gold to me.

In April 1941 Mr. Levick got drafted into the Army as an enlisted man in the Artillery section of the 29th Division.  He said in looking back, his decision to leave the relative “safety” of being a Cannon Cocker enlisted guy paid off as most of the men in his former regiment were killed in Normandy.  An obvious high achiever, Mr. Levick took the opportunity to go to Officer’s Candidate School at Ft. Sill Oklahoma.  While there, he volunteered to be qualified as a Forward Observer.

After Ft. Sill, Mr. Levick told me he picked the 101st Division over the 82nd and other Airborne units because he figured the 101st was being ramped up and there would be more opportunity to advance.

Once with the Screaming Eagles, Mr. Levick became Glider Rider qualified.  I even have a piece of the glider he took his first ride in that crashed at 140 mph in Maxton, NC in 1943. When in England, he met the love of his life, Althea Helsden  – a South African born Australian violinist with the U.S.O. (Note: His Case M3 Knife’s M6 sheath has “Thea & Flip” carved on it).  They soon married and were together until her death in the fall of 2012.  As a matter of fact, she saw him make his first jump in England and did not know it was him until he hit the ground, turned around and she realized it was him.  “We did 3 jumps one day, 2 the next and we were Paratroopers!  I was SOOOO proud to be a Paratrooper among Glidermen”.

My next question was obvious:  Did you jump into Normandy?  “No, we came in by boat”.   “It was awful and our boat got hit twice and was blown apart, poor suckers”. “There I was in the Infantry and I had joined the Artillery to get out of that!”   After that, he pretty much got quite and said very little about the rest of that campaign.

I broke the long spell of silence by saying; “Then there was Operation Market Garden”.  At that point Mr. Levick told me; “I was in charge of 21 gliders and we lost one over London before we left England, it was awful”.   Again, there was silence.  His son spoke up and suggested I come back another time to finish up.  Of course I agreed and thank Mr. Levick for his time and the service to our country.  I can’t wait for my return trip!

Skip Pickett, Dec. 5, 2012


April 4th 2013

It is my sad duty to report that Irving B. Levick died yesterday.  His son notified me of the news and we agreed he was in a better place with his Aussie Bride, but the loss is still though for the family.  He had just turned 94 years old and had improved since my visit.  Apparently, he took a turn for the worst and could not bounce back like before.

Unfortunately, the rest of his WWII story is now lost to time.  I sure wish I could have gotten with him again to hear how the rest of his war went.  Maybe some things are not meant to be known.

Rest is peace Sky Trooper, you will always have a special place in my memory!

Skip Pickett