‘The Last Full Measure’ details bloody battle and the fight for honor that followed the war
Starting tomorrow, the true story of a Vietnam War hero — a man who gave his life to save others on the battlefield — will be told in movie theaters nationwide.
“The Last Full Measure” details how U.S. Air Force Pararescueman William “Pits” Pitsenbarger Jr. volunteered to be lowered into the thick jungle near Saigon during a fierce firefight in order to care for wounded soldiers and protect them from the enemy. Pits ultimately lost his life that day in 1966, but not before ensuring so many other men survived.
It took 34 years and pushing from fellow pararescuemen (PJs) long after the war, for Pits’ original award of the Air Force Cross to be upgraded to the Medal of Honor. One of the pararescuemen credited for helping to make it happen is retired Chief Master Sgt. David Milsten, who now lives in Orange Park. Milsten’s fight to honor Pits for his selfless acts of heroism is also featured in “The Last Full Measure.”
Editor’s Note: For people wanting to learn about William Pitsenbarger Jr.’s story by watching the movie first, please note that there are details below about his acts of valor on the battlefield and how he ultimately received the Medal of Honor.
Selfless acts of heroism
Operation Abeline is considered one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War. It was April 11, 1966, when soldiers with Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division were pinned down by the enemy.
Pitsenbarger was 21 years old and had flown nearly 300 rescue missions during the war. He was “off duty” when he volunteered to ride on one of the helicopter flights to help those trapped infantry soldiers.
Milsten was 26 years old at the time, in a separate helicopter from Pitsenbarger, unloading soldiers Milsten had just rescued, when Pitsenbarger volunteered once again — this time to be lowered through the thick jungle and onto the ground to help the injured service members.
“The bullets are flying so thick,” recalled Milsten. “Imagine you’ve got 500 guys shooting at you at one time — machine guns, automatic rifles — and you’ve got 134 guys shooting out. The bullets are flying so thick, if you stuck your hand up, you’d lose your fingers just about.”
Milsten, in between pickups to rescue American service members with his helicopter, was able to photograph Pitsenbarger making history.
“I just stuck the camera down and shot these two pictures, and then I got back to work,” he explained. “It’s probably one of the few times that a photograph has been taken of a Medal of Honor recipient as he was earning the Medal of Honor.”
Little did Milsten know at the time, but it would be Pitsenbarger’s final mission.
“The first time we got hit from below, the rounds went right through the helicopter like butter and out the top,” he recalled, later sharing photographs with News4Jax from his days in the military (press play above to see more). “But we felt we were invincible.”
In “The Last Full Measure,” Milsten is portrayed as a character named “Tulley,” who is played by actor William Hurt, and Pitsenbarger is played by actor Jeremy Irvine.