William H Pitsenbarger

William H Pitsenbarger

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William was born on the 8th of July, 1944 in Piqua, Ohio. While in junior high school, he had wanted to enlist in the US Army as a Green Beret but his parents would not give their permission to do so. After high school, William decided to join the US Air Force and was headed for basic training in San Antonio on the 31st of December, 1962. During basic, he volunteered for Pararescue, completed all of the requirements, and was then assigned to the Rescue Squadron out of Hamilton Airforce Base in California. William received temporary duty orders to Vietnam, which upon completion he volunteered to return. When he returned, he was with Detachment 6, 38th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Bien Hoa Air Base near Saigon. William flew almost three hundred rescue missions in Vietnam, but it was his final that would earn him the Medal of Honor. The citation reads:

Airman First Class Pitsenbarger distinguished himself by extreme valor on April 11, 1966 near Cam My, Republic of Vietnam, while assigned as a Pararescue Crew Member, Detachment 6, 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron. On that date, Airman Pitsenbarger was aboard a rescue helicopter responding to a call for evacuation of casualties incurred in an on-going firefight between elements of the United States Army's 1st Infantry Division and a sizable enemy force approximately 35 miles east of Saigon. With complete disregard for personal safety, Airman Pitsenbarger volunteered to ride a hoist more than one hundred feet through the jungle, to the ground. On the ground, he organized and coordinated rescue efforts, cared for the wounded, prepared casualties for evacuation, and insured that the recovery operation continued in a smooth and orderly fashion. Through his personal efforts, the evacuation of the wounded was greatly expedited. As each of the nine casualties evacuated that day were recovered, Pitsenbarger refused evacuation in order to get one more wounded soldier to safety. After several pick-ups, one of the two rescue helicopters involved in the evacuation was struck by heavy enemy ground fire and was forced to leave the scene for an emergency landing. Airman Pitsenbarger stayed behind, on the ground, to perform medical duties. Shortly thereafter, the area came under sniper and mortar fire. During a subsequent attempt to evacuate the site, American forces came under heavy assault by a large Viet Cong force. When the enemy launched the assault, the evacuation was called off and Airman Pitsenbarger took up arms with the besieged infantrymen. He courageously resisted the enemy, braving intense gunfire to gather and distribute vital ammunition to American defenders. As the battle raged on, he repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to care for the wounded, pull them out of the line of fire, and return fire whenever he could, during which time, he was wounded three times. Despite his wounds, he valiantly fought on, simultaneously treating as many wounded as possible. In the vicious fighting which followed, the American forces suffered 80 percent casualties as their perimeter was breached, and airman Pitsenbarger was finally fatally wounded. Airman Pitsenbarger exposed himself to almost certain death by staying on the ground, and perished while saving the lives of wounded infantrymen. His bravery and determination exemplify the highest professional standards and traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Air Force.

Initially, William was awarded the Air Force Cross for his actions. He was the first enlisted member of the Air Force to receive the Air Force Cross and when it was upgraded to the Medal of Honor on the 8th of December, 2000, his father and his wife received the Medal from the Secretary of the Air Force. William was also posthumously promoted to staff sergeant on the same day. William Hart Pitsenbarger is buried in the Miami Memorial Park Cemetery in Covington, Ohio, plot 43-D, grave 2, and his name can be found on the Vietnam Wall, Panel 06E, Line 102.

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