It was April 11, 1966, Cam My, Republic of Vietnam, and the Army’s 1st Infantry Division started taking heavy casualties in a protracted firefight. William H. Pitsenbarger, Airman First Class and a Pararescue crew member with the 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, was dispatched with his team to evacuate the wounded.
Sensing the urgency of the situation as his Kaman HH-43 Huskie helicopter approached, Pitsenbarger volunteered to ride the rescue hoist to the jungle floor, and immediately got to work giving aid to the wounded and preparing casualties for extraction.
For his candor, Pitsenbarger, nicknamed “Pits”, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for paying the ultimate sacrifice in order to save wounded soldiers.
Daniel Kirby, a native of Louisville, Kentucky, a rifleman serving under C Company of the first Infantry division, was stunned that anybody would willingly come down into that situation, and stay there with it. He called Pits the bravest person he’d ever known.
Pits recovered nine casualties and refused to leave. He wanted to get even more wounded to safety. Eventually, another helicopter arrived to take away yet more wounded, but the assault from the Viet Cong intensified forcing the helicopter to retreat.
Pits own helicopter had been hit hard by the enemy and was very nearly disabled, but before leaving the area, the helicopter’s pilot, Harold D. Salem of Mesa, Arizona, gave Pits another chance to get out off the battlefield. Instead, he refused and waved the chopper off. Pits decided to keep tending to the wounded Americans on the ground, who were still pinned down under heavy sniper and mortar fire.
For the next couple of hours, Pitsenbarger crouched and crawled through the thick jungle in search of wounded soldiers. He dragged them to the middle of the company’s perimeter, hiding them behind trees and logs for shelter. Charles Epperson of Paris, Missouri, watched as he saw Pitsenbarger spot two wounded soldiers outside of the perimeter. He cried out for help, but Epperson refused.
He was pinned down and worried for his life. Yet, Pits still took off to collect those men and ended up helping Pits drag those men back to safety.
The circumstances deteriorated, forcing Pits to take up arms and fight the Viet Cong for an hour and a half, repeatedly exposing himself to heavy enemy fire while he did his utmost to make improvised splints and stretchers from the surrounding flora.
Ammunition running low, Pits darted around the battlefield, risking life and limb to collect leftover ammunition and distribute it to those still fighting. For his troubles, he sustained three wounds doing this. Yet, ignoring his wounds, he kept fighting.
He did his utmost to repel the attack and treat the wounded until the American perimeter was finally breached, and he took four shots while on his way to treat another wounded man, with the fourth hitting him between his eyes and killing him instantly.
Pitsenbarger’s body was discovered with a medkit in one hand and his rifle in the other. A native of Piqua, Ohio, Pits was twenty one when he was killed in action.
For remaining behind to treat and evacuate as many wounded soldiers as he possibly could, at great risk to his own life and well-being, culminating in the ultimate price, Pitsenbarger was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross, which was later upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
Pitsenbarger’s heroism has even inspired a motion picture. “The Last Full Measure,” will be released later on this year, and will star Samuel L. Jackson, Peter Fonda, William Hurt, Diane Ladd, Alison Sudol and Christopher Plummer, and Jeremy Irvine will play Pits himself.