LtGen Charles Pitman, Marine Who Saved Lives, Dies at 84
LtGen Charles Pitman was the Marine Corps Deputy Chief of Staff of Aviation at his retirement in 1990. He passed away on February 13 at the age of 84. He spent nearly 40 years in the Corps, but is best known for his 1973 heroics that could easily have cost his entire career. (NOLA)
New Orleans, January 7, 1973
The quiet Sunday morning in New Orleans was suddenly shattered by an armed black panther sympathizer named Mark Essex. He killed a police officer and police cadet the week prior, but this Sunday morning, he took his .44 carbine to the local Howard Johnson Motor Lodge and started killing again.
He murdered the hotel manager, the assistant manager, and a newlywed couple staying at the facility. Then he set fire to some of the rooms in order to attract more first responders. As soon as they arrived, he killed three more New Orleans police officers. He reportedly wounded many more people during his killing spree.
Essex began to shield himself in a cement rooftop cubicle, knowing that police would be shooting at him.
The Charles Pitman Factor
Charles Pitman was a 37 year old Lt Colonel at the time. While watching the coverage of the scene that had New Orleans paralyzed, he decided “enough was enough.”
He was in charge of a Marine Air Unit at Belle Chasse. so he gathered a co-pilot and two crew members, climbed aboard a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter, and flew to a parking lot near the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge. There several police officers also climbed on board and they were off.
Pitman made a few passes over the rooftop, but officers couldn’t get a clear shot at Essex. That is, until the LtCol doubled back, leaving Essex exposed outside of the cubicle. The police officers opened fire, shooting the suspect over 200 times. End of the problem.
Charles Pitman had not asked permission to use Marine Corps property or personnel. He faced a possible court martial for his action until a Democrat, Rep. F. Edward Herbert, intervened on his behalf. The charges were dropped, and the Marine Corps transferred him out of New Orleans in June that year.
Had he not taken those officers to that rooftop, many more people would have died.
Career of excellence
LtGen Charles Pitman was a decorated officer who had numerous commands over the course of his career. He was an accomplished helicopter pilot. One of his toughest moments was during the Iran crisis in 1980, when 8 service members were killed while attempting to free the Iran hostages. Pitman was in charge of the helicopter crews on that mission.
His awards included:
- Silver Star
- 2 Defense Superior Service Medals
- 4 Distinguished Flying Crosses
- Bronze Star with “V” device
- Purple Heart
- Defense Meritorious Service Medal
- 65 Air Medals
- Navy & Marine Corps Commendation Medal with “V” device
- Combat Action Ribbon
- Korean Order of National Security Merit Cheonsu Medal
Lt Gen Pitman was being treated for cancer at a Texas hospital when he died. According to Charles Pitman Jr., the facility lowered their flags to half-staff at his passing. Naval Air Station Pensacola did the same. His funeral is March 9 at the Marine Base in Quantico, VA.
He was a Marine who took risks in the defense of others. Semper Fi, LtGen Pitman, Rest in Peace.