TFH 2/19: SSG Fred W. Zabitosky, USA

Fred William Zabitosky was born on October 27, 1942 in Trenton, New Jersey. He had a troubled childhood, spending time in reformatories for delinquent youths, and joined the United States Army at age 17.

The Army turned out to be the best thing for him, and he excelled in the service as its discipline and structure was just what this young man was looking for. By February 19, 1968, not only was Zabitosky an exceptional soldier and a Staff Sergeant, he was one of the elite members of the Special Forces, wearing the famed “Green Beret” in combat with the 5th Special Forces Group in Vietnam.

On that day forty-five years ago, a patrol that Zabitosky was the assistant leader of came under attack by a much larger force as the Green Berets unknowingly walked right into the middle of the enemy’s encampments. The account of the battle is incredible. Zabitosky survived the crash of the helicopter that had come to their rescue, and despite his immense pain from severe burns and a broken back he suffered in the crash, he pulled one other from the helicopter’s wreckage and tried to save the others before struggling towards another rescue craft. His incredible courage was recognized with the award of the Medal of Honor.

From Medal of Honor Citations for the Vietnam War (M-Z):

ZABITOSKY, FRED WILLIAM

Rank and organization: Sergeant First Class (then S/Sgt.), U.S. Army, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne). Place and date: Republic of Vietnam, 19 February 1968. Entered service at: Trenton, N.J. Born: 27 October 1942, Trenton, N.J. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Sfc. Zabitosky, U.S. Army, distinguished himself while serving as an assistant team leader of a 9-man Special Forces long-range reconnaissance patrol. Sfc. Zabitosky’s patrol was operating deep within enemy-controlled territory when they were attacked by a numerically superior North Vietnamese Army unit. Sfc. Zabitosky rallied his team members, deployed them into defensive positions, and, exposing himself to concentrated enemy automatic weapons fire, directed their return fire. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Sfc. Zabitosky ordered his patrol to move to a landing zone for helicopter extraction while he covered their withdrawal with rifle fire and grenades. Rejoining the patrol under increasing enemy pressure, he positioned each man in a tight perimeter defense and continually moved from man to man, encouraging them and controlling their defensive fire. Mainly due to his example, the outnumbered patrol maintained its precarious position until the arrival of tactical air support and a helicopter extraction team. As the rescue helicopters arrived, the determined North Vietnamese pressed their attack. Sfc. Zabitosky repeatedly exposed himself to their fire to adjust suppressive helicopter gunship fire around the landing zone. After boarding 1 of the rescue helicopters, he positioned himself in the door delivering fire on the enemy as the ship took off. The helicopter was engulfed in a hail of bullets and Sfc. Zabitosky was thrown from the craft as it spun out of control and crashed. Recovering consciousness, he ignored his extremely painful injuries and moved to the flaming wreckage. Heedless of the danger of exploding ordnance and fuel, he pulled the severely wounded pilot from the searing blaze and made repeated attempts to rescue his patrol members but was driven back by the intense heat. Despite his serious burns and crushed ribs, he carried and dragged the unconscious pilot through a curtain of enemy fire to within 10 feet of a hovering rescue helicopter before collapsing. Sfc. Zabitosky’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.

Zabitosky had been promoted to Sergeant First Class by the time of the Medal’s award and continued serving in our Army through 1989. He retired as a Master Sergeant. He passed away at an all-too-young 53 years of age on January 18, 1996 and rests in peace at the Lumbee Memorial Gardens in Lumberton, North Carolina.

The 5th Special Forces Group continues to execute world-wide missions and commitments from their home base at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

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