When finally they came Home

Corporal Michael J. Crescenz

Corporal Michael J. Crescenz

Veterans Day 

November 11, 2013

As has been my habit here from time to time, allow me to honor the following individuals in recognition of Veterans Day 2013.  I use their stories in memory of all who have served.

My only expectation from this small gesture is for the reader to spend a few moments reflecting on the immensity of their sacrifice and the anguish of those who loved them.

*     *     *

William H. Pitsenbarger joined the U.S. Air Force after graduating high school in 1962.  He volunteered to become a pararescue specialist and arrived in Vietnam in August 1965.  On April 22, 1966 his unit (38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, Detachment 6) was sent to support elements of the Big Red One surrounded in the jungle near Saigon.

As Pitsenbarger’s HH-43 Huskie attempted to extract wounded soldiers from the triple canopy jungle battlefield, his crew observed ground troops having difficulty loading the wounded onto the litter hoists.  Pitsenbarger volunteered to be lowered to the ground to assist the ground troops.

William H. Pitsenbarger

Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger

As fighting intensified, the helos were driven off by ground fire and Pitsenbarger was forced to stay with the infantry as they fought through the night.  Not only did he tend to the wounded, he helped the ground troops fight on by running ammunition to where it was needed.  At some point he was mortally wounded while fighting beside the infantry.

Pitsenbarger was 21 years old when he was killed in action.  He was awarded the Medal of Honor on December 8, 2000.

*     *     *

SGT Dominick Licari, born on October 18, 1912, was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942.  In 1944 his flight of three A-20G Havoc bombers went missing after a mission in northeastern New Guinea.

Sergeant Dominick Licari

Sargeant Dominick Licari

The wreckage of the plane which carried him and pilot 2nd Lt. Valorie Pollard was not located on the thick jungle mountainside into which they crashed until 1989.  It took three additional visits until 14 bone fragments were discovered in 2012 to finally identify his remains through DNA analysis.

His brother, Mort, always held out hope that his brother would be found and returned to the family’s cemetary plot during the 67 years he was away. Licari was scheduled to be interred at Mt. Olivet near Utica, NY.

*     *     *

The story of Michael J. Crescenz‘s childhood sounds a lot  like many of us who grew up in big cities.  A Roman Catholic education in the West Oak Lane section of Philadelphia and playing stickball, wall ball, wiffle ball, etc. with his five brothers from dawn to dusk.  Then off to Cardinal Dougherty High School and graduation in the era of the Vietnam War.

I was lucky.  I graduated from Father Judge High School (a rival school located in Northeast Philadelphia) in 1974.  The war was winding down; and an armistice was signed in the midst of my junior year.  There was no pressing need for service in the military, so off I went to college, a good job, and raising a family.

bildeMike Crescenz landed in in Vietnam in September 1968 as a rifleman in Alpha Company, Fourth Battalion, 31st Infantry, 196th Brigade, Americal Division.  Just two months later, on November 20, his unit walked into an ambush near Nui Chom, a 3000-foot high, thickly covered jungle redoubt laced with enemy machine gun bunkers near Da Nang.

His unit was pinned down with several men wounded on the point.  Crescenz grabbed an M-60 machine gun and charged the length of a football field to assault the bunkers.

His Medal of Honor citation reads in part:

Immediately, Cpl. Crescenz left the relative safety of his own position, seized a nearby machine gun and, with complete disregard for his safety, charged 100 meters up a slope toward the enemy’s bunkers which he effectively silenced, killing the 2 occupants of each. Undaunted by the withering machine gun fire around him, Cpl. Crescenz courageously moved forward toward a third bunker which he also succeeded in silencing, killing 2 more of the enemy and momentarily clearing the route of advance for his comrades. Suddenly, intense machine gun fire erupted from an unseen, camouflaged bunker. Realizing the danger to his fellow soldiers, Cpl. Crescenz disregarded the barrage of hostile fire directed at him and daringly advanced toward the position. Assaulting with his machine gun, Cpl. Crescenz was within 5 meters of the bunker when he was mortally wounded by the fire from the enemy machine gun. 

Michael Crescenz was 19 years old.  He was the only Philadelphian to earn the Medal of Honor for actions taken in the Vietnam War.

A bill is before Congress to name the Philadelphia Veterans  Medical Center in honor of Michael J. Crescenz.

*     *     *

Major Louis Guillermin

Major Louis Guillermin

This past October 7 Donna Stoyko was amazed at the turnout for a husband she had lost 45 years ago in a plane over Laos.

MAJ Louis Guillermin was a navigator on an A-26A aircraft on a night mission to disrupt supply routes along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  His plane, flown by Lt. Col. Robert Pietsch, flying his last mission before moving to a desk job, was blown to pieces in an explosion.

Stoyko, who had married Louis just a year before, knew from those who were there that night that her husband would never be coming home.  Yet she had to wait those 45 years to lay him to rest.

Lt. Col. Robert Pietsch

Lt. Col. Robert Pietsch

Their plane wreckage was not found until 1994.  However recovery efforts had to wait until the area could be cleared of explosives.  When the site was eventually excavated they found a wristwatch, a strand of Gulliermin’s hair, and one long leg bone.  His dog tags were found in the soil beneath the wreckage.

When Stoyko returned to West Chester, PA last month to bury her first husband, she was grateful to see the turnout which included over 100 motorcycles in escort provided by the Chester County Vietnam Veterans of America, hundreds of American flags posted around the Oxford (PA) funeral home, and flag-draped fire trucks on every overpass along Route 1.

It was a far cry from the way many Vietnam veterans were greeted when they came home from a very unpopular war.

Please remember them and all veterans who served and are serving our country.

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