Joseph R. Pitts was born in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1939. His family moved to the Philippines as missionaries in January 1947, where his father worked as a chaplain in the Army during World War II. Pitts attended high school in the Philippines, and after graduation, his family moved back to Kentucky in 1958.
While in Kentucky, Pitts met his wife. Both were teachers by trade, but they could not afford to raise a family on a teacher’s salary, so he decided to join the military. Pitts attended officer training school at Lackland Air Force Base in the summer of 1963 while his wife stayed at home with their family.
After graduation, Pitts attended navigator training at James Connally Air Force Base near Waco, Texas, where he graduated second in his class. Pitts attended electronic warfare training at Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento, California, followed by combat crew training at Castle Air Force Base in Atwater, California. According to his interview for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, his tenure at Castle was the most enjoyable throughout his service as he both trained on B-52s and spent time with his family.
Following survival training, Pitts went to Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee, Massachusetts, with the 99th Bomb Wing and the 8th Air Force as part of the Strategic Air Command. He finished training and served with the 346th Bombardment Squadron.
In 1967, Pitts’ squadron went to Southeast Asia. While there, he completed 16 combat missions in two months and received an Air Medal. Pitts then served a six-month tour where his unit flew missions out of Guam, Japan and Thailand. By the time Pitts was ready to leave the military, he accumulated 116 missions over three tours and received an Air Medal with 5 oak leaf clusters. He considered staying but decided that being present for his growing family was his most pressing duty. He left the military in 1969 as a captain and settled in a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Pitts served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1972-1997 and U.S. House of Representatives from 1997 until his retirement in 2017. When asked how his experience in the military impacted his time in politics, Pitts noted, “Having an appreciation for the military and what our soldiers go through really helps in engaging a lot of these other countries.”
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Veterans History Project
This #VeteranOfTheDay profile was created with interviews submitted to the Veterans History Project. The project collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war Veterans so that future generations may hear directly from Veterans and better understand the realities of war. Find out more at http://www.loc.gov/vets/.
Writer: Amanda Baker
Editor: Rachel Falconer
Fact checker: Vivian Hurney and Kinsley Ballas
Graphic artist: Helena Strohmier