Al Levenson was attending Brooklyn College when the U.S. entered World War II. A month later, he left college one semester short of graduation to enlist in the U.S. Navy. He became a pilot and flew approximately 50 combat missions in Curtiss SB2C Helldiver dive bombers with Bombing Squadron 98, detachment B from the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-10), "the Fighting Lady" (the second Yorktown). During a bombing mission against a Japanese-held island about 50 miles north of Saipan, he collided with another Helldiver and his plane exploded, blowing Al out of his shoes and out of the cockpit. His parachute was damaged and did not open. Al fell 1,200 to 1,500 feet and hit the ocean in a sitting position. After about three hours, he was rescued by a patrol boat and returned to the carrier, suffering from a severed tendon in his left foot, a cut muscle in his arm, burns, and shock. After the story of his miraculous survival swept through the Navy and made the U.S. newspapers, Al was offered the opportunity to return home. He declined the offer and returned to flying more combat missions once he was declared fit to return to service about six weeks later. His plane was hit by enemy gunfire on the first two missions after his recovery. Al received numerous commendations including the Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart. After the war, Al's former commanding officer wrote an extremely complimentary letter of recommendation describing Al's wartime conduct in order to help Al to return to active duty in the U.S. Naval Reserve.
After the war Al tried to get a flying job but there were many more multi-engine pilots who were preferred by the airlines. He opted for a management path in the growing airfreight industry and, in 1946, he joined KLM Royal Dutch Airlines in New York as Cargo Sales Manager-US. He pioneered many innovations in the airfreight industry, including fully dedicated air-cargo configured aircraft, palletization, container design, etc. He created a world-wide sales force, instrumental in making KLM number one in the airfreight industry across the Atlantic. He was honored as “Air-Cargo Man of the Year” in 1960 by the Airfreight Industry Association.
In 1965, Al was approached by senior management of Seaboard World Airlines and offered the position of VP sales. He left KLM, joined Seaboard and restructured their sales and freight operations. He hired many of his experienced former KLM sales force, themselves World War II veterans. They remained faithful and devoted to him right up to the merger with Flying Tigers. Soon, Seaboard become number one in air freight across the Atlantic. Al remained with Seaboard until just before the merger with Flying Tigers in 1980, opting to take retirement rather than presiding over the demise of his faithful sales force.
In his spare time, he kept flying for fun and re-building many World War II, pre-war and post-war vintage aircraft like this Stinson Reliant.In 1998, Al visited the Yorktown in Charleston Harbor, S.C. He was given a personal tour and is seen in this photo sitting in a divebomber.
Al was predeceased by his wife of 65 years, Marjorie, just eight week earlier; and his son Robert. He is survived by his son, Capt. Lee Levenson; and by his twin daughters, Marjorie and Lynn. He is seen above in 1998 in a Navy dive-bomber on board the Yorktown which now sits as a World War II Memorial in Charleston Harbor, SC.