Weatherman was vital WWII service member
Each day, 106-year-old Mel Levet sits down and does what the doctor ordered.
He eats a meal based on a “bland” diet.
And, later, he throws back a drink — not what the doctor ordered, per se, but it’s Mel’s remedy for staying healthy.
“A thimble of vodka on ice,” said Levet, a longtime resident of Holladay Park Plaza in Northeast Portland.
And, every night, his thoughts turn to 1941 to ’45 and his service as a member of the U.S. Army Air Force in the South Pacific during World War II. He was a meteorologist, helping pilots plan their course. “I never fired a gun in the war. It wasn’t my role to shoot people,” he said. But, he figured prominently in missions by B-17 bombers and other aircraft helping the war effort.
He proudly talks about his duty, which came through happenstance.
A Southern California native, Levet wanted to join the U.S. Navy after Pearl Harbor, but he didn’t weigh enough — 125 pounds at the time. So, the graduate in geology from California Institute of Technology (aka Caltech), who also received his master’s degree from there and played baseball (through 1940), pursued an offer made to scientists and engineers by the military to study meteorology at UCLA and then the University of Chicago.
Levet, given a second lieutenant Army rank, went about forecasting weather, which could be tricky in the South Pacific.
Remember, this was the 1940s, and there weren’t satellites and computers. A lot of forecasting was done by utilizing weather balloons, consulting with civilian meteorologists, and using observation and intuition.
Levet remembers talking with a fellow weatherman, who provided him with the phrase “persistence forecasting.” Translation: Base your tomorrow forecast on what happened today.
Whereas he never saw combat, Levet recalls one precarious situation after the war’s end. He was flying toward Leyte, Philippines, from Tokyo on a B-17 bomber near the edge of a cyclone, and the crew lost track of their position. They had intended to refuel in Formosa (Taiwan), but instead, after Levet helped determine the aircraft’s position, the plane landed on a small island with a Marine base.
“I had a few strokes of luck,” said Levet, who served in the 13th Air Force.
He loved to fly in the B-17, and “at one time, I counted 20 different islands (visited), Levet said.
He left the military as a major and still fits into his Army uniform with its ribbons, commemorative medals, and gold bars. Levet worked for three decades for Standard Oil of California (now Chevron), retiring in 1982.
As far as being a weatherman, post-war: “I never had an inkling to do that.” However, he does watch Portland meteorologists, calling KGW’s Matt Zaffino his favorite.
His late wife, Perle, served stateside in the U.S. Navy, and Levet said she and he mostly kept up with Navy personnel after the war. They had two children, Boyd Levet and Janice La Pouvoir, and he has grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Levet turned 106 on June 27. He’s lived a long life (for many years in Lake Oswego), which he attributes to eating and sleeping well and an active lifestyle, including hiking and camping with family and being a Boy Scouts leader. Levet also enjoyed walking/jogging and playing golf as a younger man, in addition to playing college baseball.
“He’s the Indiana Jones of our family,” Boyd Levet said.
Levet had a health scare while working in California, complaining of chest pain. He took a couple of Tylenol and felt better, but the pain returned. His doctor told him that Levet had an ulcer in his digestive tract and needed to be on a “bland diet.” Levet has lived a healthy life since then, except for some acid reflux and hay fever.
He’s part of the Sycamore Society at Holladay Park Plaza — the people 100 years and older. He and Perle moved to Holladay Park in 1998. She died 15 years ago. Before that, the couple traveled extensively, including a cruise to Greenland. “They were very adventuresome people,” Boyd Levet said.
“He exercises every day, he likes to stay fit,” said Katee Samuelson-Nguyen, a health service administrator. “He doesn’t look like he’s in his 100s.”