America's Heroes: Medal of Honor Recipients from the Civil War to Afghanistan

By James H. Willbanks | Go to book overview

Pitsenbarger, William H.

Born: July 8, 1944

Died: April 11, 1966

Home State: Ohio

Service: Air Force

Conflict: Vietnam War

Age at Time of Award: 21

William H. Pitsenbarger was born on July 8, 1944, and grew up in Piqua, Ohio, a small town near Dayton. In his junior year of high school, he tried to enlist in the Army’s Special Forces, but he was not old enough, and his parents refused to sign the consent forms. He remained in school one more year, graduating in the spring of 1962. After graduation, he continued to work as a stockboy at a local grocery supermarket for a time. However, he joined the Air Force, departing Piqua for basic training in San Antonio, Texas, on New Year’s Eve, 1962.

After completing basic training, Pitsenbarger attended a number of special schools, including the Army’s parachute school at Fort Benning, Georgia, the Navy’s underwater swimmers course, the rescue and survival medical course, the combat survival course, and the Tropical Survival School at Albrook Air Base in the Panama Canal Zone. Having completed all the special training, he emerged as one of the Air Force’s elite pararescuemen, more commonly known as PJs. He first served as a pararescue-medic in the NASA space program, working on the Gemini and Mercury space vehicle recoveries.

In August 1965, Pitsenbarger went to Vietnam and was assigned to Detachment 6, 38th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Bien Hoa Air Base near Saigon. His unit flew HH-43F Kaman Huskie helicopters and were responsible for rescuing downed pilots and, when required, evacuating friendly ground troops. Pitsenbarger went to work immediately and soon had logged over 300 rescue missions, facing enemy fire over and over, while helping rescue hundreds of men. In March 1966, he received the Airman’s Medal for rescuing a South Vietnamese soldier who had lost a foot and was trapped inside an old mine field. The government of South Vietnam awarded him Vietnam’s Medal of Military Merit and the Cross of Gallantry with Bronze Palm.

On April 11, 1966, Pitsenbarger was on board one of two Huskies dispatched to assist in extracting several Army casualties from a unit pinned down near the village of Cam My, a few miles east of Saigon. Pitsenbarger and a wire mesh Stokes litter were lowered through the jungle canopy to the ground, where he attended to the wounded before strapping them into the litter basket to be lift ed to the hovering helicopter by cable. Six wounded men were loaded onto the helicopters this way and were flown to the aid station while Pitsenbarger remained on the ground with the rest of the wounded.

Upon returning for the second load, the hovering helicopter had lowered the litter basket to Pitsenbarger when the aircraft was hit by enemy small arms fire. Rather than climbing into the litter basket and departing with the damaged aircraft, Pitsenbarger, disregarding his own safety, waved off the pilot and remained on the ground with the wounded. As the helicopter flew away to safety, the enemy intensified its attack on the American unit. Amid incoming mortar and small arms fire, Pitsenbarger tended to the wounded, redistributed ammunition, and joined in the fight to hold off the Viet Cong (VC), despite being wounded three times during the battle. Pitsenbarger was killed by VC snipers during the night; reportedly, when his body was recovered the next day, one hand still held his rifle and the other clutched a medical aid kit.

-262-

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America's Heroes: Medal of Honor Recipients from the Civil War to Afghanistan
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • List of Entries ix
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Preface xv
  • Introduction xvii
  • Adams, Lucian 1
  • Baca, John P. 2
  • Bacon, Nicky Daniel 4
  • Baker, Vernon 6
  • Baldwin, Frank D. 8
  • Ballard, Donald E. 11
  • Barfoot, Van T. 13
  • Barnum, Harvey C., Jr 14
  • Barrett, Carlton W. 16
  • Basilone, John 18
  • Benavidez, Roy P. 20
  • Birkhimer, William E. 22
  • Blake, Robert 24
  • Bleak, David B. 25
  • Boyington, Gregory 27
  • Brady, Patrick Henry 29
  • Britt, Maurice L. 30
  • Brown, Bobbie E. 32
  • Bucha, Paul William 34
  • Burke, Lloyd L. 36
  • Bush, Robert Eugene 38
  • Butler, Smedley Darlington 40
  • Butterfield, Daniel 42
  • Cafferata, Hector a., Jr 43
  • Carney, William H. 45
  • Cavaiani, Jon R. 48
  • Chamberlain, Joshua L. 49
  • Childers, Ernest 51
  • Cody, William F. 53
  • Cohn, Abraham 55
  • Cole, Robert G. 57
  • Craft, Clarence B. 59
  • Crandall, Bruce P. 61
  • Custer, Thomas W. 63
  • Dahlgren, John Olof 65
  • Daly, Daniel Joseph 67
  • Davila, Rudolph B. 69
  • Davis, Charles W. 70
  • Davis, Raymond G. 73
  • Davis, Sammy L. 74
  • Day, George E. 76
  • Dean, William F. 78
  • Deblanc, Jefferson Joseph 79
  • Dix, Drew Dennis 81
  • Donlon, Roger Hugh C. 84
  • Donovan, William Joseph 85
  • Doolittle, James H. 87
  • Doss, Desmond T. 88
  • Dunham, Jason L. 90
  • Dunham, Russell E. 91
  • Dyess, Aquilla James 93
  • Ehlers, Walter D. 96
  • Evans, Ernest Edwin 98
  • Faith, Don C., Jr 100
  • Finn, John William 102
  • Fletcher, Frank Jack 104
  • Fluckey, Eugene Bennett 105
  • Foley, Robert F. 107
  • Foss, Joseph Jacob 109
  • Fox, John Robert 112
  • Freeman, Ed W. 113
  • Funston, Frederick 115
  • Galer, Robert Edward 117
  • García, Macario 119
  • Gonsalves, Harold 121
  • Gonzalez, Alfredo 123
  • Gordon, Gary I. 125
  • Hagemeister, Charles Chris 126
  • Harmon, Roy W. 128
  • Harrell, William George 130
  • Hatch, John P. 131
  • Hayashi, Shizuya 133
  • Hayes, Webb C. 134
  • Heard, John W. 137
  • Hendrix, James R. 139
  • Hernández, Rodolfo P. 140
  • Herrera, Silvestre S. 142
  • Hooper, Joe R. 144
  • Howard, Oliver O. 146
  • Howard, Robert L. 148
  • Inouye, Daniel K. 150
  • Irwin, Bernard J. D. 154
  • Izac, Edouard Victor Michel 155
  • Jackson, Joe M. 158
  • Jacobs, Jack H. 160
  • Joel, Lawrence 162
  • Kaufman, Benjamin 164
  • Keeble, Woodrow W. 166
  • Kelly, Charles E. 167
  • Kerrey, Joseph R. 169
  • Kisters, Gerry H. 171
  • Kouma, Ernest R. 173
  • Lang, George C. 175
  • Lemon, Peter C. 177
  • Levitow, John L. 178
  • Liteky, Angelo J. 181
  • Livingston, James E. 182
  • Lopez, Jose M. 184
  • Lucas, Jacklyn Harold 186
  • Luke, Frank, Jr 189
  • Mabry, George L., Jr 191
  • Macarthur, Arthur, Jr 193
  • Macarthur, Douglas 195
  • Mackie, John F. 198
  • Mallon, George H. 200
  • Marm, Walter Joseph, Jr 201
  • Martinez, Joe P. 203
  • McCool, Richard Miles, Jr 204
  • McGinnis, Ross A. 206
  • McGinty, John J., III 207
  • McKinney, John R. 209
  • Merli, Gino J. 211
  • Miles, L. Wardlaw 213
  • Miles, Nelson A. 214
  • Millett, Lewis L. 218
  • Miyamura, Hiroshi H. 220
  • Mize, Ola L. 223
  • Moffett, William A. 225
  • Monsoor, Michael A. 226
  • Monti, Jared C. 227
  • Munemori, Sadao S. 229
  • Munro, Douglas Albert 231
  • Murphy, Audie L. 233
  • Murphy, Michael P. 235
  • Murphy, Raymond G. 236
  • Norris, Thomas R. 238
  • Novosel, Michael J. 240
  • O’Hare, Edward Henry 243
  • O’Kane, Richard Hetherington 245
  • Okubo, James K. 246
  • Olive, Milton L., III 248
  • O’Neill, Richard W. 249
  • Page, John U. D. 251
  • Paige, Mitchell 254
  • Parker, Samuel I. 256
  • Pennypacker, Galusha 258
  • Penry, Richard A. 260
  • Pitsenbarger, William H. 262
  • Pittman, John A. 264
  • Pittman, Richard A. 265
  • Pope, Everett Parker 267
  • Pope, Thomas A. 269
  • Rascon, Alfred V. 271
  • Ray, Ronald Eric 273
  • Red Cloud, Mitchell, Jr 275
  • Rickenbacker, Edward V. 278
  • Roberts, Gordon R. 279
  • Rocco, Louis R. 281
  • Rodriguez, Joseph C. 283
  • Roosevelt, Theodore 285
  • Rosser, Ronald E. 287
  • Rubin, Tibor 289
  • Rudolph, Donald E. 291
  • Ruiz, Alejandro R. Renteria 293
  • Sakato, George T. 294
  • Salomon, Ben L. 296
  • Sandlin, Willie 298
  • Sasser, Clarence Eugene 300
  • Schofield, John M. 302
  • Shafter, William R. 303
  • Shoup, David Monroe 305
  • Shughart, Randall D. 307
  • Sickles, Daniel E. 310
  • Sijan, Lance P. 312
  • Simanek, Robert E. 313
  • Sitter, Carl L. 315
  • Smith, Andrew Jackson 317
  • Smith, Paul R. 319
  • Spurrier, Junior J. 320
  • Stockdale, James B. 322
  • Stone, James L. 324
  • Stowers, Freddie 326
  • Thornton, Michael Edwin 327
  • Thorsness, Leo K. 329
  • Titus, Calvin Pearl 332
  • Turner, George B. 333
  • Urban, Matt 335
  • Vandegrift, Alexander Archer 337
  • Vargas, Jay R. 339
  • Versace, Humbert R. 341
  • Wahlen, George Edward 343
  • Wai, Francis B. 345
  • Wainwright, Jonathan M. 347
  • Walker, Dr. Mary E. 349
  • Ware, Keith L. 350
  • Warren, Francis E. 352
  • Watson, George 353
  • Watters, Charles Joseph 354
  • Webb, Alexander S. 358
  • Wetzel, Gary George 360
  • Whiteley, Eli 362
  • Whittington, Hulon B. 363
  • Williams, Hershel Woodrow 365
  • Wilson, Louis Hugh, Jr. 367
  • Wood, Leonard 369
  • Woodfill, Samuel 372
  • York, Alvin C. 373
  • Young, Rodger W. 375
  • Zabitosky, Fred William 377
  • Zeamer, Jay, Jr. 379
  • Recipients of the Medal of Honor 381
  • Double Award Recipients 487
  • Medals of Honor Awarded by Conflict and Service 489
  • Bibliography 493
  • Index 511
  • About the Editor 529
  • Contributors 531
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