By Randal C. Hill
In 1999, Todd Robinson, the director/screenwriter of The Last Full Measure, learned the story of William H. Pitsenbarger, a U.S. Air Force Pararescueman who flew almost 300 rescue missions during the Vietnam War, saving the lives of over 60 men.
Robinson had been visiting training schools for his movie research and one common thread emerged.
“Nearly every place I went, the young trainees wanted to be sure that I knew the story of William Pitsenbarger,” Robinson explained to Air Force Magazine.
Called “Pits” by his comrades, the 21-year-old medic was aboard one of two helicopters summoned to evacuate wounded soldiers after they were ambushed in a Vietnam jungle in April 1966. When the last chopper was ready to lift off, the selfless Pits, already under heavy Viet Cong fire, volunteered to stay behind and tend to the wounded while holding off the advancing enemy. He was killed within 90 minutes.
When Robinson later heard the airman’s father, William “Frank” Pitsenbarger, speak about his son’s legacy at a New Mexico airbase, “The whole thing jelled for me at that moment,” said Robinson. “That’s when I knew there was a story to tell.”
Just as compelling as the hero’s account was what happened in the aftermath.
When wives of the surviving soldiers learned that Pits had been given an Air Force Cross—the second-highest honor—for his ultimate sacrifice, they protested that it wasn’t good enough. Numerous veterans subsequently petitioned Congress to elevate Pits to the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest decoration.
Robinson and producer Sidney Sherman pitched the movie idea to over 50 production companies, but nobody showed interest. Still, Robinson had such faith in Pits’ story that he went ahead and wrote a script anyway. He then embarked on over a decade of arm-twisting to line up funding. Finally, by 2017, things had fallen into place. Jeremy Irvine would portray Pits and lead the all-star cast.
The Last Full Measure story unfolds through the perspective of Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan), a young Pentagon official assigned to investigate the complicated case involving Pits and the prestigious Congressional Medal of Honor Award.
Along the way, Huffman encounters a high-level conspiracy behind the decades-long denial of the medal. Still, he charges ahead fearlessly in pursuit of final justice for the heroic airman. On December 8, 2000, the medal was awarded to Pitsenbarger—34 years after his death.
The movie opens nationwide on January 17.