“What this man did in an hour of incredible courage will live in the story of America as long as America endures - as he will live in the hearts and memories of those who loved him. He was a brave man and a leader of men. No greater thing could be said of any man.” – President Lyndon B. Johnson
Riley Leroy Pitts grew up in Oklahoma City and attended Douglass High School. At Douglass, he was inspired by his teachers to work hard and strive to better himself. At Wichita State University, he became the first member of his family to graduate from college in 1960. After college he entered the Army, ascended to the rank of captain, and was assigned as a public information officer in Europe. As the Vietnam War intensified, Pitts volunteered for combat duty in 1966 hoping to put his training and leadership to better use.
In 1967, one month before he was due to return home, Captain Pitts led his men in an assault on heavily fortified enemy positions near Ap Dong, Vietnam. As the battle raged, Pitts, “displaying complete disregard for his life and personal safety, quickly moved to a position which permitted him to place effective fire on the enemy. He maintained a continuous fire, pinpointing the enemy’s fortified positions, while at the same time directing and urging his men forward, until he was mortally wounded.”
For his actions that day, Captain Riley Leroy Pitts was awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest service award the United Stated can give. His widow Eula Mae Pitts accepted the award from President Johnson. He was the first African American officer to receive the Medal of Honor. Captain Pitts’ sacrifice is remembered in the name of a military post and a street name in Germany, a facility at Fort Sill, and the veteran student center at his alma mater, Wichita State, where a therapy dog named Riley works with veterans.
This park was named Riley Leroy Pitts Park by proclamation of the city council in 1975. Since that time the park has been an important gathering place for the neighborhood and was the site of Clara Luper’s annual Freedom Fiesta commemorating the civil rights sit-ins in Oklahoma City for many years.