On April 11, 1966, U.S. Air Force Pararescuemen medic William H. Pitsenbarger, deep in the throes of the Vietnam War, could have hopped on the last helicopter out of a heated combat zone, but he stayed behind to save 60 of his fellow soldiers in the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division. Pitsenbarger would die saving his comrades that day.
He's what you'd call a hero. Yet it took longer than you'd think to get Pitsenbarger his posthumous Medal of Honor. In the late 1990s, Pentagon staffer Scott Huffman sought to obtain the award by interviewing Pitsenbarger's old friends and fellow soldiers. Huffman succeeded, and Pitsenbarger was finally recognized in a Medal of Honor ceremony in April 2000 at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.
Both Pitsenbarger's and Huffman's heroics are the crux of director Todd Robinson's new film, "The Last Full Measure," a phrase aptly lifted from President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
"This is the ultimate story of valor and sacrifice of service over self," Robinson said. "The story of William Pitsenbarger is one of the great untold stories of the Vietnam War. It took us 20 years to make the film and 32 years for the veterans he saved to get him the Medal of Honor."
Considering the medic's almost supernatural act of courage, why did it take so long to get the young man his medal?
"There was so much going on during that time during the middle of a war and recognizing one man’s valor probably was not the foremost thing on the military’s mind," Robinson explained. "Pitsenbarger was only the third enlisted airman to ever get the Medal of Honor. In context of politics at that time, they put him up to the medal and it went all the way to the White House. It was downgraded to an Air Force Cross and now 30 years later the mud soldiers, who were not even Air Force, realized he had not received the award and went to work to make sure his valor was ultimately recognized."
In a moving directorial decision, Pitsenbarger's ceremony scene features actual survivors of the battle.
Sebastien Stan stars in "The Last Full Measure" as Pentagon staffer Huffman. William Hurt plays Pitsenbarger's best friend, and Pitsenbarger's parents are played by onscreen legends Christopher Plummer and Diane Ladd. Hero Pitsenbarger is portrayed by British actor Jeremy Irvine. Starring alongside this already stellar cast are Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris and the late Peter Fonda.
"I hope audiences realizes that even a random act of kindness placed decades before can have a true impact on other people and that’s what really happened to William Pitsenbarger," Robinson said. "He gave his life in 1966 and here we are today and we are still talking about him. He is an example of true valor and bravery for others and it is a tremendous example for us even now. For these men to put the story in my hands was a great responsibility and a great privilege."
"The Last Full Measure" is now available for streaming and home entertainment.