Medal of Honor, Airman 1st Class William Hart Pitsenbarger, United States Air Force

Airman 1st Class William Hart Pitsenbarger, United States Air Force

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 posthumously to:

for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty Near Cam My, 11 April 1966:

Rank and organization: Airman First Class, U.S. Air Force, Detachment 6, 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, Bien Hoa Air Base, Republic of Vietnam.

Place and date: Near Cam My, 11 April 1966

Entered service at: Piqua, Ohio

Born: 8 July 1944, Piqua, Ohio

Citation: 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 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.

Airman 1st Class William Hart Pitsenbarger, United States Air Force, with his Colt M-16 rifle and Kaman HH-43 Huskie rescue helicopter. (U.S. Air force)
Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 thoughts on “Medal of Honor, Airman 1st Class William Hart Pitsenbarger, United States Air Force

  1. Makes me feel like l was just playing checkers on my 135 missions. Hope your family will always know the exemplary meaning of this sacrafice

  2. RIP Airman. Bravery is something that just happens when you are in these type of situations. To lay down your life so others may live was his greatest gift to give. God bless you!!

  3. As long as the United States of America continues to produce brave troops like this, we will remain the land of the free……………….viet62-3-4-6-7

  4. What makes a hero? You never know if you have what it takes until you are placed into a situation like airman petsenbarger, you just do what you have to do without thinking of the consequences, he was more concerned about his fellow soldiers than himself. My hats off to you a real hero. From a fellow AC-130 gunship crew member who flew the trail and was awarded the DFC for heroism but I don’t feel like the hero, you are a real hero in my book. RIP.

  5. Thank u for your service and sacrifice. May you also rest in peace and my your family always find comfort.

  6. My dad knew him. My dad was TSGT DUDLEY PECKINPAUGH Det. 10, 38thArrs. My dad served 4 tours in the mid 60s in Vi Vietnam. He received 4 Silver stars, 3 bronze stars, and 4 Air Medals along with a bunch of others that covered his chest. It took a certain kind of man to be a PJ and those men would give it all at a moments notice. RIP

  7. I was a PJ stationed at Clark AB and flew missions out of Danang between 1964 – 66. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have served with some of the bravest men ever. Names like Pleiman, Peckinpaugh, Don Smith, Art Black and Art Cormier. Black had a total of 2702 days as a POW and Cormier had 2655 days. Pits’s sacrifice is one of the most notable but I think he would just like to be remembered as someone who gave their all, that others may live. RIP Brother

  8. RIP Pit’s. Thank you for your Sacrifice and Service. From a fellow airman. I stationed at Luke AFB AZ. From ‘65 to ‘68. 4510th Supply Squadron, 4510th Combat Crew Training Wing. F 100 C & D Models. Training Base for Fighter Pilots. You are indeed a hero. Thank you my Brother.

  9. Some updated info on this incredible Warrior and Patriot.
    Originally awarded the Air Force Cross, it was subsequently upgraded to the Medal of Honor after a variety of eyewitness accounts of his valor were provided. It was presented to his parents on December 8, 2000 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, making him the second Air Force enlisted member to earn the nation’s highest honor.
    I believe he was promoted to SSGT posthumously as his grave marker is noted.

    Link to his grave site:

    His name can be found on Panel 06E, Line 102 of the Vietnam Wall Memorial in Washington, DC.
    Thanks Bryan for remembering this brave Airman, slow hand salute…. RIP.

  10. Knew of Pitts and Peckinpaugh and Pleiman at Danang when I was a HU-16B Pilot. The PJ’S rarely came forward to the cockpit. Still have PJ’S names on saved manifests.

  11. Hand Salute. May you R.I.P.
    I have watched the movie Last Full Measure several times. Was familiar with the history of the mission where Pits gave his all.

  12. I flew as an “Trained Observer” in an Army OV1C Mohawk (twin engine surveillance/recon aircraft) out of Marble Mountain, RVN ’69-70. While I had the good fortune of never needing a PJ and Jolly Green, it provided comfort to know that if/when I did, they were only a short call away on the “on guard” channel. Airman Pitsenbarger and all the PJ’s and crew of air/sea rescue choppers are the real deal. My greatest respect and admiration. RIP

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