Stories of America's Greatest Heroes

Ken Harbaugh tells the stories of service members who have distinguished themselves through an act of valor. These stories feature recipients from the Civil War to present day, including a few who were originally overlooked for the medal.

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William Pitsenbarger

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William "Pits" Pitsenbarger flew in helicopter rescue missions to treat and evacuate wounded soldiers and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his selfless actions near Cam My, Vietnam in 1966.

Pitsenbarger's heroism was the subject of the recent film The Last Full Measure, starring Sebastian Stan, Christopher Plummer, Samuel L. Jackson, and Jeremy Irvine as Pitsenbarger.

Learn more about Airman First Class Pitsenbarger here:

Ken Harbaugh: Welcome to the Medal of Honor podcast, brought to you in partnership with the National Medal of Honor Museum. I’m Ken Harbaugh. In each episode, we’ll learn about a different service member who has distinguished him or herself through an act of valor.

Airman First Class William Pitsenbarger was born in 1944 in western Ohio.

He was interested in the special forces from an early age and after he graduated high school in 1962, he enlisted in the US Air Force.

He volunteered for pararescue training, going through parachute training, survival school, rescue and survival medical courses, environmental conditioning, and more.

In only a few years, he completed more than 250 rescue missions.

In April of 1966, Pitsenbarger was on a rescue helicopter in Vietnam.

He was assigned as a Pararescue Crew Member near Cam My, responding to a casualty evacuation call during an ongoing firefight between elements of the Army’s 1st Infantry division and a large force of Viet Cong.

Pitsenbarger was lowered from the helicopter through the jungle canopy to treat and evacuate the wounded.

He recovered nine casualties, then refused to be evacuated himself, staying on the ground to treat the wounded.

Soon, the area came under heavy fire. Pitsenbarger fought alongside the infantrymen, gathering and distributing ammo.

He cared for the wounded throughout the battle, despite receiving wounds of his own.

As the fighting grew worse, the American’s perimeter was breached. They suffered 80% casualties. Airman Pitsenbarger was killed.

Those who survived the battle recommended Pitsenbarger for the Medal of Honor, but it was initially downgraded to the Air Force Cross.

But veterans who had witnessed his courage kept the story alive. Decades later, the Secretary of the Air Force, Whit Peters, held a ceremony to award Pitsenbarger the Medal of Honor.

Pitsenbarger’s father was dying of cancer, so rather than taking the time to schedule a traditional White House event, Peters arranged a ceremony at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio in April of 2000.

300 people whose lives had been touched by Pitsenbarger’s actions, the survivors of Cam My and their families, were present, as was Pitsenbarger’s father.

The Medal of Honor podcast is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. We are proud to support the National Medal of Honor Museum. To learn more, and to support their mission, go to Thanks for listening.

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