Today is November 29 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you venture out to meet glory and danger alike?” People who navigate the chaos often have a clear vision of what is before them, glory, and danger alike, yet move forward amidst the ambiguity.
In The Peloponnesian War, Athenian historian and general Thucydides recalled the words from Pericles' Funeral Oration “The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.” Pericles' Funeral Oration is a famous speech delivered by Pericles, an eminent Athenian politician, at the end of the first year of the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC) as a part of the annual public funeral for the war dead. It is easy to walk forward when you know there is glory ahead of you. But how often do you move forward knowing that danger may also cross your path?
One such person who went out to meet glory and danger alike was William Pitsenbarger, also known as Pits, grew up in Piqua, Ohio, and dreamed of quitting high school to join the Green Berets. However, he remained in school. After graduating in 1962, Pitsenbarger joined the Air Force.
Pitsenbarger began his service in a series of rigorous military schools. These schools included U.S. Army parachute school, survival school, rescue and survival medical course and the U.S. Navy’s scuba diving school. Three years after joining the Air Force, Pitsenbarger arrived in Vietnam in August 1965. Here, he would complete missions as part of Detachment Six of the U.S. Air Force’s 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron. On Pitsenbarger’s path serving as a pararescueman, he completed more than 250 missions.
During one of his missions in Saigon, Pitsenbarger hung from an HH-43’s cable to rescue a wounded South Vietnamese soldier from a burning minefield. His actions earned him an Airman’s Medal and the Republic of Vietnam’s Medal of Military Merit and Gallantry Cross with bronze palm.
Pitsenbarger was killed in action April 11, 1966. A battalion of Viet Cong surrounded 134 soldiers from the First Infantry Division in the thick jungle near Saigon. Due to the rapidly increasing casualties and injuries, the only way to evacuate the wounded from the dense battle zone was with the U.S. Air Force HH-43 Huskie helicopters. Pitsenbarger volunteered to be lowered to the ground to help despite being under fire.
Integral to the mission, Pitsenbarger rescued nine soldiers on several trips. When it came time to return to the helicopter, he chose to remain and help the troops. While on the ground, he helped deliver ammunition and give aid to the surviving soldiers under fire. During the battle, he was mortally wounded. He was 21.
Soon after Pitsenbarger was killed, his Air Force commanders nominated him for the Medal of Honor. An Army general recommended that the award be downgraded to the Air Force Cross, apparently because at the time there was not enough documentation of Pitsenbarger's actions. Pitsenbarger received the Air Force Cross on June 30, 1966.
After review and nearly 35 years later, the original award was upgraded. On December 8, 2000, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, the airman's father, William F. Pitsenbarger, and his wife, Alice, accepted the Medal of Honor from Secretary of the Air Force Whit Peters. During the same ceremony he was also posthumously promoted to the rank of Staff sergeant. The audience included battle survivors, hundreds of pararescue airmen, a congressional representative and the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force. Pitsenbarger was the 59th Medal of Honor recipient, and sixth enlisted recipient, from the Air Force and its predecessor organizations.
Pitsenbarger’s remarkable life story was told in the 2019 American war drama film The Last Full Measure, written, and directed by Todd Robinson. The story follows the efforts of Pentagon staffer Scott Huffman and many veterans to see the Medal of Honor awarded to Pitsenbarger. The film stars Sebastian Stan, Christopher Plummer, William Hurt, Ed Harris, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Irvine, and Peter Fonda, in his final film role..
How often do you venture out to meet glory and danger alike?