PIQUA — The Piqua and surrounding community came out in full force on Saturday morning to the statue dedication ceremony honoring Airman First Class William H. Pitsenbarger. The 1962 Piqua Central High School graduate who earned both the Congressional Medal of Honor and Air Force Cross in Vietnam was also the namesake for Pitsenbarger Park and Sports Complex, where the event was held and now features a life-size bronze statue in his image.
“Mayor Fess urged all citizens to honor our country’s greatest honors, the Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, Airman First Class William H. Pitsenbarger for giving his life and living his life by the Pararescue Oath,” Glenn Devers, master of ceremony, said in his opening remarks. Piqua Mayor Lucy Fess previously issued a proclamation making Saturday, Nov. 14 of 2015, William H. Pitsenbarger Day in the city of Piqua.
Devers then quoted the U.S. Air Force Pararescue Oath, reading, “It is my duty as a pararescueman to save life and to aid the injured. I will be prepared at all times to perform my assigned duties quickly and efficiently, placing these duties before personal desires and comforts. These things I do, that others may live.”
“This is a long time coming,” Piqua City Commissioner and Vice Mayor Bill Vogt said. Vogt told a story of how he once met and worked with Pitsenbarger when Vogt got a part-time job working at Kroger in 1962.
“Everybody liked him,” Vogt said, saying Pitsenbarger was a hard and dedicated worker.
One night, Vogt said that Pitsenbarger was supposed to be off because Pitsenbarger had a date. That night, though, Vogt found Pitsenbarger bagging groceries. When Vogt questioned him, Pitsenbarger said, “You guys need help, I’m here to help.”
“He was just a good, caring individual,” Vogt said, also referring to Pitsenbarger as a “jokester.”
“Such a gentleman,” Vogt said. “I couldn’t get over my experience with him.”
At the end of Vogt’s speech, he said, “This is long overdue … You will be amazed at the likeness of Bill Pitsenbarger.”
Two students from the local area were chosen to read from their patriotism essays, the first student being Isabelle Reyes of Piqua Central Intermediate who defined patriotism as “one’s unwavering love for his or her country.”
“Those with patriotism in their hearts are driven to do selfless acts,” Reyes said. Reyes remarked on Pitsenbarger and commended his “dedication to his country.”
“He did what he believed is right,” Reyes said.
“We live in a nation that provides us with security, adequate amounts of food, healthcare, opportunities for people of any race, sexuality, gender, or religion to succeed, and so much more,” Taesha Carter of the Upper Valley Career Center said. “(Patriotism) is this burning desire to repay our country in any way possible for all we have received.”
Carter said that members of the U.S. armed forces exemplify patriotism and “have a love so strong for their home that they are willing put their lives on the line so that everyone can experience its greatness.”
Carter detailed the heroic actions of Pitsenbarger, pointing out that he flew on over 300 combat rescue missions in Vietnam “putting his own life at risk every single time” before losing his life. Carter called Pitsenbarger “a super hero without the cape.”
Both students brought up the famous quote from President John F. Kennedy, each reading, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
State Senator Bill Beagle attended the ceremony to present a proclamation about Pitsenbarger from Governor John Kasich and Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor. Before reading the proclamation, Beagle remarked that at the first speech he ever gave as a public figure at a Veterans Day event, he talked about Pitsenbarger.
“It touched me personally as I learned about him,” Beagle said.
Beagle then read from Kasich’s proclamation.
“We are truly blessed to live in a land with unparalleled liberty and opportunity, but these blessings do not come to us without a cost,” Beagle read. “They are bought and paid for by the service and sacrifice by generations of military men and women from 1775 right up to the present moment.
“Airman First Class Pitsenbarger gave his life to be part of that legacy of courage and honor, and we are forever grateful for his service and sacrifice. We owe him a debt of gratitude, which can never be fully repaid.”
“Today we are here to recognize a native Ohioan who gave his life so others may live,” Colonel John Devillier, the 88th Air Base Wing Commander, said. Devillier was the guest speaker for the event, stating that he was humbled to have that opportunity.
“Honor, courage, service. These are the three words that sum up Airman Pitsenbarger’s life and his heroic actions,” Devillier said. “On that day, April 11, 1996, Airman Pitsenbarger volunteered to go into harm’s way to save the lives of other soldiers … Nine soldiers that were able to live their tomorrows because Airman Pitsenbarger gave up all of his.
“On that fateful day, Airman Pitsenbarger left the safety of his helicopter and went down the hoist, carrying a medical bag, his rifle, and a pistol,” Devillier went on. “And instead of accompanying the wounded back to nearest medical facility, he chose to stay behind and continued to respond to cries for medic.”
Pitsenbarger and 80 percent of the infantry soldiers were killed that day, Devillier said.
According to Devillier, Pitsenbarger’s actions are used as examples of duty first, selflessness, dedication, professionalism, and leadership. His actions are also the current standards of pararescuemen across U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Department of Defense.
“Airmen Pitsenbarger tried to enlist in the army as a Green Beret when he was just a junior in high school,” Devillier said. “Fortunately for the air force, his parents wouldn’t give him permission.”
Devillier commented that Pitsenbarger’s heroic actions included more than the ones that took his life.
“There are other acts of heroism that he displayed frequently during his brief air force career that were precursors of what would occur on that April Day in 1966,” Devillier said. “Like the time he had to face down a bear to rescue an injured hiker in the mountains of California.
“Or the time that he and a good friend set out to find downed pilot in enemy controlled territory and saved the pilot from capture and possibly death,” Devillier went on. “Or the time he literally dangled beneath a helicopter to rescue a Vietnamese soldier who was wounded while trying to put out a fire in minefield.”
Devillier explained that heroism was not a one-time occurrence for Pitsenbarger.
“During that last act of heroism, he had at least six opportunities to save himself and return to safety,” Devillier said. “Airman Pitsenbarger lived and died so that others may live.”
Devillier also commented on the recent terrorist attacks that took place throughout Paris, France on Friday, Nov. 13, killing over 120 people.
“We live in a dangerous world with people who don’t hold our values,” Devillier said. “There are people who do not like us, and I will tell you that the first person who would have signed up after last night’s events in Paris would have been Airman Pitsenbarger.”
“This is glorious day in Piqua, Ohio for sure,” Ruth Koon, president of the Friends of the Piqua Parks, said at the end of the ceremony. “I think all of us here today represent a grateful nation, a grateful state, a grateful county, and truly a grateful community … It’s with great pleasure and pride that the Friends of the Piqua Parks committee give this statue to the citizens of Piqua.”
Distinguished dignitaries in attendance who were recognized included Pitsenbarger’s stepmother Alice Pitsenbarger, State Senator Bill Beagle, the 88th Air Base Wing Commander Colonel John Devillier, Troy Mayor Mike Beamish, Piqua City Commissioner and Vice Mayor Bill Vogt, Piqua City Commissioner Joe Wilson, Piqua City Commissioner Judy Terry, Miami County Commissioner Jack Evans, Richard Trowbridge of the Piqua VFW Post 4874, and Gary Felver of the American Legion Post 184.
The Air Force Honor Guard and the Wright Brass band also took part in the ceremony.
Reach reporter Sam Wildow at (937) 451-3336 or on Twitter @TheDailyCall