William H. Pitsenbarger
William H. Pitsenbarger was born in Piqua, Ohio July 8, 1944. His parents were William and Irene Pitsenbarger of 626 Gordon Street. He attended Piqua public schools and participated in the Vocational Industrial Club, intramural sports, and wrestling. He graduated from Piqua High School in 1962 and worked at Kroger grocery store until enlisting in the Air Force December 31, 1963. He trained in pararescue at various bases stateside, and then left for Vietnam August 7, 1963. By April 1966, Airman First Class Pitsenbarger had completed close to three hundred missions in Vietnam. On April 11, 1966 he participated in a mission near Cam My. He rode a hoist 100 feet down from a helicopter to coordinate rescue operations on the ground and elected to remain with the wounded under heavy sniper and mortar fire. He was killed while distributing rifles to the defenders. William H. Pitsenbarger was the first Airman to receive the Air Force Cross. He also received the Medal of Honor in December 2000. The citation accompanying the Medal of Honor and signed by President William J. Clinton reads as follows:
“The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of The Congress the Medal of Honor to Airman First Class William H. Pitsenbarger United States Air Force for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.
Airman First Class Pitsenbarger distinguished himself by extreme valor on 11 April 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 ongoing firefight between elements of the United States Army’s 1st Infantry Division and a sizeable 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 was recovered, Airman Pitsenbarger refused evacuation in order to get more wounded soldiers 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 that followed, the American forces suffered 80 percent casualties as their perimeter was breached, and Airman Pitsenbarger was 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.”
Locally, Piqua has honored him with the dedication of the William H. Pitsenbarger Sports Complex in May 1993, an Ohio Historical Marker at Veteran’s Memorial Park in April 2001 and a scholarship fund in his name at Edison Community College. William Pitsenbarger is remembered by his high school classmates as a warm and outgoing man, and by his Air Force comrades as someone “…always willing to get in the thick of the action where he could be the most help.”