U.S. Marine pilot whose heroics helped stop 1973 New Orleans sniper dies at 84

| February 20, 2020

A decorated U.S. Marine Corps pilot who risked his life and career to help New Orleans police during the Howard Johnson’s hotel sniper attack that claimed seven lives in 1973 died Feb. 13 of cancer, according to his family.

Retired Lt. Gen. Charles “Chuck” Pitman Sr., whose heroics in piloting a helicopter that allowed police to shoot and kill sniper Mark Essex earned him the gratitude of city leaders, was 84.

In nearly four decades as a Marine, including three combat tours in Vietnam, Pitman earned numerous medals: including Silver Stars for valor, Distinguished Flying Crosses and a Purple Heart.

But in an interview with The Times-Picayune in 2013, Pitman said perhaps his proudest achievement was being named an honorary New Orleans Police Department captain for flying the helicopter that turned the tide as police exchanged gunfire with Essex.

Pitman never sought permission from his superiors to fly that mission, he said, only forgiveness.

“The thing with him was, if you’re going to be a Marine, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” his son, Charles Pitman Jr., said. “He was always happy he did what he did.”

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See historical photos of 1973 sniper attack at the Downtown Howard Johnson's in New Orleans

On the quiet Sunday morning of Jan. 7, 1973, Essex — who had already killed a police cadet and a police officer the previous week — arrived at the Downtown Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge in the 300 block of Loyola Avenue.

He killed the hotel’s general manager, its assistant manager and a newlywed couple staying as guests. He then set fire to some of the 17-story hotel’s rooms in a bid to attract more first responders to the scene.

Armed with a .44-caliber carbine, Essex began firing at them as they arrived, fatally shooting three NOPD officers: Phil Coleman, Paul Persigo and Deputy Superintendent Louis Sirgo.

Essex continued shooting, wounding a dozen other people as he finally shielded himself in a concrete rooftop cubicle.

Like the rest of the paralyzed city, Pitman was watching news coverage of Essex’s attack when he decided he’d had enough.

A 37-year-old lieutenant colonel in charge of a Marine air unit stationed in Belle Chasse, he gathered up a volunteer co-pilot and two crew members and flew them all in a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter to a parking lot near the hotel.

Several NOPD officers armed with rifles hopped aboard the twin-rotor transport helicopter, which Pitman repeatedly flew over the rooftop. Essex would occasionally venture out to fire at the helicopter but returned to his cover before the cops could get a clear shot.

On the critical flyover, Pitman doubled the helicopter back instead of retreating as he had on previous occasions. The maneuver caught Essex far from the cubicle, and — with a spotlight illuminating him — officers in the helicopter and on rooftops of surrounding buildings emptied their weapons.

Essex fell dead, shot more than 200 times. The crisis was over.

Investigators later determined that Essex, a Black Panther Party sympathizer, was enraged by the shooting deaths of two students at Baton Rouge’s Southern University during a clash between police and protesters.

“If (Pitman’s involvement) would not have happened, we would have lost more people,” said Larry Preston Williams, who was among the officers who scrambled out to the hotel that day. “He was instrumental … in taking out Mark Essex.”

Nonetheless, Pitman faced a possible court-martial, having deployed military personnel and resources without obtaining the proper authorization. The matter was dropped after U.S. Rep. F. Edward Hebert, a powerful New Orleans Democrat who headed the House Armed Services Committee, intervened.

The Marine Corps transferred Pitman out of New Orleans in June 1973. The most difficult chapter of his career happened in 1980, when he took charge of helicopter crews who tried to rescue 52 Americans being held hostage in Iran. The mission failed when one of the helicopters collided with a transport plane, and eight military members died.

“Essex fell dead, shot more than 200 times.”  The good ole days, before we got soft on crime.

Source: U.S. Marine pilot whose heroics helped stop 1973 New Orleans sniper dies at 84 | Crime/Police | nola.com

Category: Crime, Historical, Veterans in the news

Comments (31)

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  1. Toxic Deplorable Racist SAH B Woodman says:

    “Why did you shoot him 200 times?”
    “Because we ran out of bullets.”

    (I remember reading something similar somewhere else.)

    • Veritas Omnia Vincit says:

      There was a comedy western with Anthony Edwards and Lou Gossett who played an old gunfighter…when he was asked why he had shot someone in the back, Gossett’s character replied, “his back was to me”

      Movie was called El Diablo I believe…pretty funny stuff.

    • Graybeard says:

      After Carasco and his thugs were shot in their attempted prison escape from the Huntsville Unit in 1974, the JP ruled their deaths “suicide” – saying “When a Texas Ranger tells you to drop your gun and you don’t – that’s suicide.”

    • rgr1480 says:

      Toxic: “…(I remember reading something similar somewhere else.) …”

      Face to face with an armed man suspected of killing a Polk County deputy sheriff, SWAT officers riddled his body with 68 bullets.

      Altogether, nine officers fired 110 times Friday at Angilo Freeland, who Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said “executed” one of his deputies.

      That’s all the bullets we had, or we would have shot him more,” Judd said after autopsy results were released Saturday.

      https://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-xpm-2006-10-01-deputy01-story.html

  2. Sapper3307 says:

    The birth of a BLM poster boy?

  3. Toxic Deplorable Racist SAH B Woodman says:

    I’ll bet that after all the shooting was over, not even his own mother would have recognized him.

  4. 5th/77th FA says:

    RIP Retired Lt Gen Charles “Chuck” Pittman Sr. The epitome of a reason to ask for forgiveness instead of permission. Bet there was a line waiting to buy his drinks in Valhalla.

    Who here thinks that (a) A Service Member could get forgiveness for this type of action today, (b) a Democrat Senator would intervene on the side of the Service Member?

  5. Veritas Omnia Vincit says:

    A live well lived indeed. Rest easy sir, we can take it from here.

  6. SFC D says:

    What’s the max lift capacity of a CH-46, once you add the weight of the crew and their yuge brass testes?

    • penguinman000 says:

      46’s are like AAVs. There’s always room for one more.

      • SFC D says:

        Watched a USMC 46 slam down (land?) on the pier at Pohang in 1989, didn’t know there was that much flex in the rotors. Ramp dropped and about 10 Marines wobbled out, dazed and confused.

        • USAFRetired says:

          It didn’t have to be a firm landing for them to be dazed and confused. They were Marines.

          ducks for cover

  7. AW1Ed says:

    Fair winds and following seas, General Pitman.

  8. Combat Historian says:

    Essex was a nutcase; when the cops entered his apartment in the aftermath of the shooting, they found the apartment’s walls completely covered in anti-white, anti-cop graffiti…

    RIP, General…

  9. The Other Whitey says:

    They say the asshole “fell dead” after being shot 200+ times. I’m guessing they mean “in very small pieces.”

    Godspeed to General Pitman.

  10. 26Limabeans says:

    “Armed with a .44-caliber carbine”

    Ruger? or an original Deerslayer?
    Cannot think of any others.

  11. Mick says:

    I remember LtGen Pitman.

    There was never a dull moment when he was in the area.

    Here’s a link to his detailed biography:

    http://www.epnaao.com/BIOS_files/REGULARS/Pitman-%20Charles%20H.pdf

  12. Mason says:

    God damn, now that’s a guy you’d follow anywhere. Godspeed, General.

  13. Sparks says:

    Rest in God’s peace, Sir. You were a true one of a kind.

  14. Graybeard says:

    Rest in peace, Sir.

    Thank you.

  15. Ex-PH2 says:

    Sometimes, you just gotta do what you gotta do… and he did.

    Rest in Peace, Marine.

  16. BruteLarson407 says:

    What a badass! Probably died in combat strangling his cancer to death. Rest in whatever way you deem interesting General! God be with you, and be you with God. I suppose they still make’em like this, but they sure as hell make it hard for them to sneak by the hall monitors to adulthood.

  17. SidneyBroadshead says:

    When interviewed after Teddy Roosevelt had passed away in his sleep, an acquaintance supposedly said: “Good thing he was asleep, or there might have been a struggle.”

    Comedy Cavalcade
    Ted Nugent Is Visited By The Ghost of Christmas Past

  18. Skippy says:

    Rest well sir

  19. USAFRetired says:

    Over 12000 hours flying time. That is freaking impressive. Especially when most of his time was in things that 2 hours would be a long sortie.

    Godspeed General.

  20. MI Ranger says:

    interesting no one picked up on the last paragraph: The Marine Corps transferred Pitman out of New Orleans in June 1973. The most difficult chapter of his career happened in 1980, when he took charge of helicopter crews who tried to rescue 52 Americans being held hostage in Iran. The mission failed when one of the helicopters collided with a transport plane, and eight military members died.
    Operation Eagle Claw, known as Operation Tabas (Persian: عملیات طبس‎) in Iran, was a United States Armed Forces operation ordered by U.S. President Jimmy Carter to attempt to end the Iran hostage crisis by rescuing 52 embassy staff held captive at the Embassy of the United States, Tehran on 24 April 1980.
    Obviously a few people took note of his “I will get it done…no matter the fall out afterwards” attitude! Great man, Rest In Peace LTG(R) Pitman!