PIQUA — Thursday evening was the homecoming celebration William H. Pitsenbarger never got after his sacrifices during the Vietnam War.
The local community, military officials, retired U.S. Army soldiers, and movie producers came together to honor the life of this local hero, as well as the lives of those he saved and helped, with the premiere of “The Last Full Measure,” a movie inspired by the story of Pitsenbarger, a U.S. Air Force pararescue specialist who saved the lives of members of the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division before losing his own in one of the harshest battles of the Vietnam War.
The American Legion Veterans Elite Tribute Squad opened the public reception with a presentation of the American flag. The reception was held at the Miami Valley Centre Mall prior to first two screenings of “The Last Full Measure,” which were reserved for local veterans free of charge thanks to a donation from Hartzell Propeller.
Local students including third grader Luke Jensvold, second grader Dana Johnston, third grader John Verrill, and second grader Madison Gallup led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance prior to Piqua High School students Audrey Jacomet and Decker Jackson performing the National Anthem and Ray Charles’ version of “America the Beautiful,” respectively.
Todd Robinson, director and screenwriter of “The Last Full Measure,” said it was Pitsenbarger’s valor and courage that stuck with them and inspired them to make this movie, which took over 20 years to make a reality.
“The Last Full Measure” follows the story of a group of Army and Air Force veterans who advocated for Pitsenbarger to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor over 30 years after his death. It also portrays the events that happened during the battle near Cam My in Vietnam on April 11, 1966, where Pitsenbarger risked his life coordinating rescue efforts and was later killed after he stayed on the ground to continue performing medical duties, helping the infantrymen get ammunition, and even return fire when he could. Pitsenbarger first received the Air Force Cross before it was upgraded to a Congressional Medal of Honor 34 years after his death on that battlefield. He was also posthumously promoted to staff sergeant.
Producer Sidney Sherman said they pursued this movie on behalf of the Army soldiers from the Charlie Company (2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry), many of which were soldiers who also advocated on behalf of Pitsenbarger to receive the Medal of Honor.
A number of retired Army soldiers — including some who were involved at the battle near Cam My in Vietnam on April 11, 1966, and one of whom who was saved by Pitsenbarger — were also at the reception and premiere of “The Last Full Measure.”
“It’s an honor for William Pitsenbarger,” said Fred Navarro, whose life Pitsenbarger saved during that battle. “His story needs to be told.”
Dave Peters, a retired Army soldier, explained it was Pitsenbarger’s day off, but he volunteered to come to their aid.
“He came down and tried to pull the seriously wounded out of the jungle,” Peters said.
Pitsenbarger was given the opportunity to leave the combat zone when the helicopter’s engine began to fail during the rescue mission, but Pitsenbarger waved off the pilot in order to stay and help.
Navarro recalled seeing Pitsenbarger there, and when Pitsenbarger was asked why he was there, “He said, ‘Because you’re here.’”
When asked why they chose to come to Piqua, Robinson said, “This is the home of William Pitsenbarger … There’s no place we’d rather be.”
Ruth Koon, a member of the movie premiere committee and the Friends of the Piqua Parks, said the retired soldiers, military officials, and others took a tour of Pitsenbarger’s hometown, many of them seeing the statue emulating Pitsenbarger at the Pitsenbarger Park and Sports Complex for the first time.
“It was just absolutely thrilling to see how it came to life for them,” said Koon, who helped spearhead the fundraising campaign for the creation of the statue of Pitsenbarger. They also went and saw Pitsenbarger’s grave, his old house, and the Veterans Memorial. “They got to see every part of him that we have around the area.”
Robinson said he hoped viewers of the film took home the message of “service greater than self” and that “anyone can make a difference.”
Colonel Theresa Goodman, commander of the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, spoke about how Pitsenbarger’s actions have left a mark on the Air Force, saying everyone at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is “very fond of the Pitsenbarger story.” Goodman described how Pitsenbarger’s actions are used to show “why we serve.”
“His story is remarkable. His actions were heroic,” Goodman said.