A1C William H. Pitsenbarger

Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger has had his posthumously awarded Air Force Cross upgraded to the Medal of Honor. The Medal of Honor was presented to his father by the Secretary of the Air Force, on 8 December 2000, at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.


A1C William H. Pitsenbarger


On April 11th, 1966, 21-year old A1C William H. Pitsenbarger of Piqua, Ohio was killed while defending some of his wounded comrades. For his bravery and sacrifice, he was posthumously awarded the nation's second highest military decoration, the Air Force Cross.

"Pits", as he was known to his friends, was nearing his 300th combat mission on that fateful day when some men of the U.S. Army's 1st Division were ambushed and pinned down in an area about 45 miles east of Saigon. Two HH-43 "Huskie" helicopters of the USAF's 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron were rushed to the scene to lift out the wounded. Pits was a pararescueman (PJ) on one of them. Upon reaching the site of the ambush, Pits was lowered through the trees to the ground where he attended to the wounded before having them lifted to the helicopter by cable. After six wounded men had been flown to an aid station, the two USAF helicopters returned for their second loads. As one of them lowered its litter basket to Pitsenbarger, who had remained on the ground with the 20 infantrymen still alive, it was hit by a burst of enemy small-arms fire. When its engine began to lose power, the pilot realized he had to get the Huskie away from the area as soon as possible. Instead of climbing into the litter basket so he could leave with the helicopter, Pits elected to remain with the Army troops under enemy attack and he gave a "wave-off" to the helicopter which flew away to safety.

Pits continued to treat the wounded and, when the others began running low on ammunition, he gathered ammo clips from the dead and distributed them to those still alive. Then, he joined the others with a rifle to hold off the Viet Cong. About 7:30 PM that evening, Bill Pitsenbarger was killed by Viet Cong snipers. When his body was recovered the next day, one hand still held a rifle and the other a medical kit.

A1C William H. Pitsenbarger, was a PJ who participated in more than 300 rescue missions. In Vietnam, PJs --all volunteers-- earned more decorations per capita than any other group of USAF personnel.


 A1C William H. Pitsenbarger



'That Others May Live'

By John L. Frisbee, Contributing Editor

October, 1983


A1C Bill Pitsenbarger knew the risks involved when he volunteered to drop into the midst of a jungle firefight.

By April 1966, 21-year-old A1C William H. Pitsenbarger, then in the final months of his enlistment, had seen more action than many a 30-year veteran. Young Pitsenbarger had gone through long and arduous training for duty as a pararescue medic with the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service and had completed more than 300 rescue missions in Vietnam, many of them under heavy enemy fire. He wore the Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters; recommendations for four more were pending. A few days earlier, he had ridden a chopper winch line into a minefield to save a wounded ARVN soldier.

His service with ARRS convinced Pitsenbarger that he wanted a career as a medical technician. He had applied to Arizona State University for admission in the fall. But that was months away. He had a job to do in Vietnam and, as rescue pilot Capt. Dale Potter said, Pitsenbarger "was always willing to get into the thick of the action where he could be the most help."

On April 11 at 3 p.m., while Pitsenbarger was off duty, a call for help came into his unit, Detachment 6, 38th ARR Squadron at Bien Hoa. Elements of the Army's 1st Infantry Division were surrounded by enemy forces near Cam My, a few miles east of Saigon, in thick jungle with the tree canopies reaching up to 150 feet. The only way to get the wounded out was with hoist-equipped helicopters. Pitsenbarger asked to go with one of the two HH-43 Huskies scrambled on this hazardous mission.

Half an hour later, both choppers found an area where they could hover and lower a winch line to the surrounded troops. Pitsenbarger volunteered to go down the line, administer emergency treatment to the most seriously wounded, and explain how to use the Stokes litter that would hoist casualties up to the chopper.

It was standard procedure for a pararescue medic to stay down only long enough to organize the rescue effort. Pitsenbarger decided, on his own, to remain with the wounded. In the next hour and a half, the HH-43s came in five times, evacuating nine wounded soldiers. On the sixth attempt, Pitsenbarger's Huskie was hit hard, forced to cut the hoist line, and pull out for an emergency landing at the nearest strip. Intense enemy fire and friendly artillery called in by the Army made it impossible for the second chopper to return.

Heavy automatic weapons and mortar fire was coming in on the Army defenders from all sides while Pitsenbarger continued to care for the wounded. In case one of the Huskies made it in again, he climbed a tree to recover the Stokes litter that his pilot had jettisoned. When the C Company commander, the unit Pitsenbarger was with, decided to move to another area, Pitsenbarger cut saplings to make stretchers for the wounded. As they started to move out, the company was attacked and overrun by a large enemy formation.

By this time, the few Army troops able to return fire were running out of ammunition. Pitsenbarger gave his pistol to a soldier who was unable to hold a rifle. With complete disregard for his own safety, he scrambled around the defended area, collecting rifles and ammunition from the dead and distributing them to the men still able to fight.

It had been about two hours since the HH-43s were driven off. Pitsenbarger had done all he could to treat the wounded, prepare for a retreat to safer ground, and rearm his Army comrades. He then gathered several magazines of ammunition, lay down beside wounded Army Sgt. Fred Navarro, one of the C Company survivors who later described Pitsenbarger's heroic actions, and began firing at the enemy. Fifteen minutes later, as an eerie darkness fell beneath the triple-canopy jungle, Pitsenbarger was hit and mortally wounded. The next morning, when Army reinforcements reached the C Company survivors, a helicopter crew brought Pitsenbarger's body out of the jungle. Of the 180 men with whom he fought his last battle, only 14 were uninjured.

William H. Pitsenbarger was the first airman to be awarded the Air Force Cross posthumously. The Air Force Sergeants Association presents an annual award for valor in his honor.

The Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service is legendary for heroism in peace and war. No one better exemplifies its motto, "That Others May Live," than Bill Pitsenbarger. He descended voluntarily into the hell of a jungle firefight with valor as his only shield--and valor was his epitaph.

A1C William H. Pitsenbarger


United States Air Force Museum

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio

Medal of Honor to be awarded

to Piqua, Ohio, native


WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio - A native of Piqua, Ohio, will be posthumously awarded the military's highest honor during a ceremony at the United States Air Force Museum here Dec. 8.

Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger, a pararescueman killed in action during the Vietnam War, will become the service's second enlisted Medal of Honor recipient since the Air Force became a separate service in 1947.

Pitsenbarger will be awarded the Medal of Honor for treating wounded soldiers, despite coming under intense enemy fire and being mortally wounded himself, during a battle April 11, 1966, outside Saigon, the Republic of Vietnam.

For his actions that day, Pitsenbarger, a veteran of 300 rescue missions, was awarded the Air Force Cross, the second highest award for valor, and the highest award the Air Force can bestow.

At the time of the original award, so many of the eyewitnesses were wounded or killed in action there was not enough information available for the Defense Department to accurately assess Pitsenbarger's bravery and justify award of the Medal of Honor.

Subsequent eyewitness reports, developed during the 1990s, led senior Air Force leaders to conclude that the Medal of Honor would more suitably recognize Pitsenbarger's heroism.

William F. Pitsenbarger will accept the Medal of Honor on his son's behalf. Subsequent to the award, Pitsenbarger will also be posthumously promoted to the rank of staff sergeant.

The ceremony will be held in the Museum's Modern Flight Hangar at 2:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public. Senior Department of Defense and Air Force officials will attend.

The U.S. Air Force Museum is located on Springfield Pike, six miles northeast of downtown Dayton. It is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day). Admission and parking are free.

A1C William H. Pitsenbarger is shown putting on a parachute, scuba tanks and other equipment for a jump into water.

Alice Pitsenbarger observes at right as her husband, William F. Pitsenbarger, center, accepts the Medal of Honor on behalf of his son, Airman 1st Class William F. Pitsenbarger, from Secretary of the Air Force Whit Peters, during a ceremony Dec. 8 at the U.S. Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Gary Coppage)

Pitsenbarger Receives Medal of Honor Posthumously

by Tech. Sgt. John Dendy IV

Air Force News

8 December 2000 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger was posthumously awarded the nation's highest honor during a presentation ceremony at the U.S. Air Force Museum here Dec. 8.

Pitsenbarger, a pararescueman killed in action during the Vietnam War, becomes the service's second enlisted Medal of Honor recipient since the Air Force became a separate service in 1947.

The airman's father, William F. Pitsenbarger, and his wife, Alice, accepted the award from Secretary of the Air Force Whit Peters. The audience included battle survivors, hundreds of pararescue airmen, a congressional representative and the Air Force chief of staff.

Pitsenbarger was awarded the Medal of Honor for treating and protecting scores of wounded infantrymen -- while under intense enemy fire and being mortally wounded himself -- in a rain forest stronghold near the Vietnamese capital of Saigon in 1966.

His actions during the mission were initially recognized with a posthumous award of the Air Force Cross. That award is the military's second-highest for service members, and the highest award the Air Force can bestow.

Upon further review in the 1990s, a number of private citizens and federal officials successfully advocated that the Medal of Honor would more accurately characterize Pitsenbarger's heroism.

The medal is presented to its recipient on behalf of the president of the United States and in the name of Congress.

"After this mission is complete, the light of Bill Pitsenbarger's valor will remain, reminding us of him and the sacrifices so many have made, that others may live," Peters said.

The Medal of Honor is awarded to individuals who, while serving in the U.S. armed services, distinguish themselves by conspicuous gallantry and courage at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty.


Medal of Honor


Pitsenbarger, William H.*


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




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.





The "Huskie" was used primarily for crash rescue and aircraft fire-fighting. It was in use with the U.S. Navy when delivery of the H-43As to the USAF Tactical Air Command began in November 1958. Delivery of the -B series began in June 1959. In mid-1962, the USAF changed the H-43 designation to HH-43 to reflect the aircraft's rescue role. The final USAF version was the HH-43F with engine modifications for improved performance. Some -Fs were used in Southeast Asia as "aerial fire trucks" and for rescuing downed airmen in North and South Vietnam. Huskies were also flown by other nations including Iran, Colombia, and Morocco.

A Huskie on rescue alert could be airborne in approximately one minute. It carried two rescuemen/fire-fighters and a fire suppression kit hanging beneath it. It often reached crashed airplanes before ground vehicles arrived. Foam from the kit plus the powerful downwash air from the rotors were used to open a path to trapped crash victims to permit their rescue.

The HH-43B on display, one of approximately 175 -Bs purchased by the USAF, established seven world records in 1961-62 for helicopters in its class for rate of climb, altitude and distance traveled. It was assigned to rescue duty with Detachment 3, 42nd Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, prior to its retirement and flight to the Museum in April 1973.


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