Monday, October 16, 2000

Vietnam vet gets medal posthumously

The Associated Press

        PIQUA, Ohio — A Vietnam veteran who flew more than 300 helicopter rescue missions over an eight-month period will posthumously receive the Medal of Honor.

        Congress last week approved the national's highest military tribute for Air Force Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger.

        On April 11, 1966, Airman Pitsenbarger made his last trip down the helicopter rescue hoist into the jungle during fierce fighting near Cam My, a few miles east of Saigon, to help pinned-down Army casualties.

        Airman Pitsenbarger of Piqua stayed behind when rescue attempts had to be abandoned after the hovering helicopter was hit by enemy fire. Credited with saving nine lives, he lost his own.

        He had been shot four times in the night-long firefight between more than 400 Viet Cong members and 134 American soldiers. By battle's end, 106 were killed or wounded.

        “He knew what the hell was going on ... what could happen to him, and still he did it. He had been down that rope many times into the jungle,” said Henry O'Beirne, who was Airman Pitsenbarger's bunkmate.

        Why Airman Pitsenbarger didn't receive the Medal of Honor sooner has been a question in many people's minds.

        John Libs of Evansville, Ind., who as a platoon leader remembers seeing Airman Pitsenbarger lowered into the fighting, pointed out that Airman Pitsenbarger was an Air Force man credited with saving the lives of Army men.

        “I think there was some politics at the time,” Mr. Libs said.


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- Vietnam vet gets medal posthumously