Each day, the VA honors a special military veteran for their dedicated service on their blog, VAntage Point. Today’s featured military member is Medal of Honor recipient featured in the upcoming movie “The Last Full Measure.”
William Pitsenbarger grew up in Piqua, Ohio, where he dreamed of quitting high school and joining the Green Berets. He stayed in school, graduating in 1962, but joined the Air Force soon after.
Pitsenbarger then attended various military schools including U.S. Army parachute school, survival school, rescue and survival medical course and the U.S. Navy’s scuba diving school. In August 1965, Pitsenbarger went to Vietnam, completing more than 250 missions as part of Detachment Six of the U.S. Air Force’s 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron. One of his more notable rescues was in Saigon, where he hung from an HH-43’s cable to rescue a wounded South Vietnamese soldier from a burning minefield. He received an Airman’s Medal and the Republic of Vietnam’s Medal of Military Merit and Gallantry Cross with bronze palm for his actions.
Pitsenbarger was killed in action April 11, 1966 at the age of 21 while rescuing injured soldiers. A battalion of Viet Cong surrounded 134 soldiers from the First Infantry Division in the thick jungle near Saigon, and the only way to evacuate casualties and the wounded was with the U.S. Air Force HH-43 Huskie helicopters. Pitsenbarger volunteered to be lowered to the ground while under fire and rescued nine Soldiers on several trips. When it came time to return to the helicopter, he stayed on the ground to help the troops, delivering ammunition and giving aid to the surviving soldiers under fire. During that time, he was mortally wounded.
On June 30, 1966, Pitsenbarger was awarded the Air Force Cross and on December 8, 2000, after decades of requests for upgrade by surviving Soldiers and Airmen, the Medal of Honor was presented to his family. He was the 59th Air Force Medal of Honor recipient and the sixth enlisted recipient.
His actions will be featured in the upcoming movie “The Last Full Measure.”