Thursday, July 19, 2007

South Vietnam, The American Waterloo: 'That Others Might Live'-Air Force Hails Hero From Ohio

November 11, 1966

Saigon, South Viet Nam--The only enlisted man in the Seventh Air Force to win the Air Medal for bravery was 21 year old William H. Pitsenbarger, Piqua, Oh. He was killed in action giving aid to wounded who had been caught in an ambush.

He was known as "Pits" around the base at Tan Son Nhut, and his job as a para-medic was never short on excitement.

Pits was killed April 11 by Viet Cong bullets in a jungle fight 31 miles southeast of Bien Hoa. A Seventh Air Force correspondent, and fellow Buckeye, Sgt. John DeSandro, 38, Maumee, Oh., began hearing a few details of the action from people who had talked to the only two survivors of the fight. Pits' name popped up frequently, and DeSandro began to investigate.

DeSandro found Sgt Fred C. Navarro, Hutchinson, Kas., a squad leader in C Company, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, who was one of the wounded Pits tried to save.

Navarro said his 10 man patrol ran into heavy fire from Viet Cong snipers and mortars. There were wounded men all around him, and a helicopter was called to evacuate the wounded.

DeSandro discovered that April 11 was Pits' regular day off, but he volunteered for the mission and hopped aboard a helicopter flown by Capt. Harold D. Salem, 33, Douglas, Ariz.

When Capt. Salem reached the area to pick up the wounded, he discovered that the dense jungle and tall trees prevented him from landing. The first of the wounded were evacuated by using a 100-foot sling, dropped through the jungle canopy. Once aboard, the injured were rushed to the field hospital at Binh Ba.

On the next trip to the stricken patrol, Pits learned that the rest of the wounded were injured so seriously that they would be unable to hold on to the sling. Pits had a choice to make. He could call the task impossible and return to base, or he could slide down the hoist rope and treat the injured.

His decision to go was voluntary. No one ordered him to go. No one would give such an order. Pits dropped into the jungle to help his buddies and he landed in the middle of the fight.

Immediately he went to work patching up the wounded men. He gathered all the ammunition magazines he could find lying around and distributed them to the wounded men. He redistributed the weapons. He exchanged rifles for pistols for the men so badly wounded they could not hold rifles.

Pit stayed with Navarro and treated his wounds while the fighting continued. Navarro was running low on ammunition and Pits noticed the fact. He left and in 15 minutes or so returned with 20 magazines of rifle ammunition he had recovered from the bodies of the dead in the jungle.

Pits grabbed a rifle and began firing.

"He must have seen some of the VC," Navarro said, "because he was squeezing of shots slowly and surely. The rest of us were spraying the trees with bullets, hoping our fire would hit them."

Only 15 minutes after Pits returned to Navarro's side he was killed.

Other rescue helicopters tried to reach the wounded men, but heavy fire drove them away. The fire fight stopped with darkness. Then, the VC women and children began sneaking into the jungle to kill all the wounded and remove the weapons.

"I could hear the women and children out there in the jungle. They were within 30 yards of my position," Navarro said.

Pits' body, Navarro, one other wounded man, and the dead GIs were evacuated a short time later.

Pitsenbarger was serving his first four-year hitch in the Air Force. He came to Viet Nam in August, 1965.

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