Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day 2009

Port Townsend, Today. Memorial Day for many is a special day to remember and reflect upon a loved one, friend, or passing acquaintance who lost their life for our country.

For me, the memory of a buddy, "Pits" Pitsenbarger, killed in Viet Nam, will always be with me. Fresh out of boot camp, I was sent to my permanent duty station at Hamilton AFB in California. My job title was to be Personnel Specialist, and I was assigned to Western Air Rescue Center.

It was a small group level entity, enjoying tenant status on an Air Defence Command base - protecting San Francisco. When we were fully staffed, there were less than two dozen of us in the building, and only a handful of us living on base. So we billeted with the 41st Air Rescue Squadron.

The field of blue represents the Sky from which our mission is accomplished, with a star for each of the 13 Air Rescue Detachments within Western Air Rescue Center. The thunder bolt and olive branch symbolize our mission in time of war or peace, and the Airman and Space capsule, those who depend on us.


After reporting to the barracks chief for my assigned "living" space, I am struggling with my duffel bag containing my worldly possessions, when this fellow comes over to help me.

"Hi! I'm Pits!"

Turned out my bunk area was next to his. It was sparse; a bunk, a locker, a dresser arrangement and a lot of roommates! I realized that he had been leaving the barracks when I stumbled in, but he was considerate in helping me get established. And so when he offered to show me where the Airman's Club was at and introduce me around, I was grateful.

Pits was a Paramedic - Jumper (PJ), one of the elite, assigned to the 41st. The Air Force equalivant to a Green Beret. Jump and combat qualified to be dropped in to rescue people in distress and administer top of the line first aid.

For the most part we didn't see that much of each other. The 41st running at full speed, constantly flying training missions and preparing to send Paramedics to Viet Nam. And Pits went with one of the groups. We had a hell of a send off party for him, and decorated his bunk area with memorabilia. It was widely speculated that he probably didn't sober up until he got to the Philippines!

We were a tight group. Our aircraft and pilots were constantly running rescue missions in Viet Nam, with Paramedics assigned to each mission. One day just after lunch, our Commanding Officer called us into a conference room. In a barely audible voice he read aloud a classified message, notifying all Air Rescue Service Personnel that "Pits" wasn't coming home.

Well, there wasn't a dry eye in the room. It was so incomprehensible. Lives were being lost over there daily, and you got numb to it. Until you recognize a name.

"Hi! I'm Pits!"

Details of his final mission can be found here. For caring for the wounded and sacrificing his life while aggressively defending his comrades, William H (Pits) Pitsenbarger received the Air Force Cross on June 30, 1966.


Well, his comrades demanded he receive a higher award, and after USAF review, the original award was upgraded. Airman Pitsenbarger was the 59th Medal of Honor recipient, and the sixth enlisted from the USAF. On December 8, 2000, the Medal of Honor was presented to his Mom and Dad in a ceremony at the U.S. Air Force Museum.


To this day, the USAF Sergeants Association has an annual recognition for Air Rescue Personnel who perform "above and beyond," named in honor of William "Pits" Pitsenbarger.


1 Comments - Click here:

Kurt Clark said...

Sad story about Pits. He sounded like a real hero. Thanks for serving our Country and supporting the cause of Freedom.

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