Statue salutes Vietnam hero

Airman saved nine lives the day he died.Unveiling set for Saturday.

The statue of the Medal of Honor recipient that was created by Urbana artist Mike Major will be unveiled at the city’s Pitsenbarger Sports Complex during a dedication ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 14.

The statue was made possible by a nearly year long fundraising effort by the Friends of the Piqua Parks organization. More than $100,000 has been raised for the statue and park landscaping improvements, said Ruth Koon, the friends’ organization chairman.

“I have this committed committee that has worked diligently, but the community and the foundations have just been so generous to this cause. I think it is because of his story, and how it has touched all Americans,” Koon said.

Airman 1st Class Pitsenbarger, a Piqua native and graduate of Piqua schools, was a pararescue and medical specialist who died April 11, 1966, in Vietnam. He was credited with saving nine lives the day he died. He was 21. Of 134 soldiers in the battle, were 106 casualties.

Pitsenbarger’s Medal of Honor was awarded in a 2000 ceremony at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Major, a Miami County native, was selected to do the sculpture because of familiarity with his quality work from his past involvement in Piqua’s Taste of the Arts event, Koon said.

Major’s work resulted from photographs of Pitsenbarger and meetings with his Piqua Central High School classmates and others including co-workers from the Kroger where worked. The artist made a mockup for them to view and suggest changes before the final statue was sent to Zanesville for the bronze work.

“Mike Major was just the best person we could have ever chosen,” Koon said.

Major said he was honored to be selected for the project.

“I was impressed with his sacrifice and his commitment and his decision to stick with his buddies instead of being evacuated. That is what the Medal of Honor is for,” Major said. “I have been blessed to do a cross section of American heroes, and William Pitsenbarger is right up there.”

The dedication ceremony will include presentations of patriotism essays by two local school students, Isabella Reyes of Piqua Central Intermediate and Taesha Carter of the Upper Valley Career Center.

The speaker will be Col. John Devillier, commander, the 88th Air Base Wing.

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