President Barack Obama today presented the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry to the family of an Air Force chief master sergeant killed in action 42 years ago in Laos.
“Today, we present the Medal of Honor to an American who displayed such gallantry more than four decades ago: Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger,” the president said at a White House ceremony. “This medal reflects the gratitude of an entire nation.”
Etchberger’s brother, Robert, and sons, Cory Etchberger, Richard Etchberger and Steve Wilson, attended the ceremony.
During a “small, private” Pentagon ceremony in the winter of 1968, Etchberger’s wife, Catherine, and sons were presented with an Air Force Cross, Obama said, but public awareness of Etchberger’s actions didn’t occur until the Air Force declassified his mission in 1986.
“That’s when they learned the truth: that their father had given his life, not in Vietnam, but in neighboring Laos,” the president said. “That’s when they began to learn the true measure of their father’s heroism.”
Obama then presented the cased award to Etchberger’s sons. Etchberger became only the 14th airman to receive the Medal of Honor for actions during the Vietnam War, and only the third enlisted airmen so honored.
RICHARD LOY ETCHBERGER
Chief Master Sergeant, US Air Force; Detachment 1, 1043rd Radar Evacuation Squadron
Born: 5 March 1933, Hamburg, Pennsylvania
Died: 11 March 1968, Laos
Citation: Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism on March 11, 1968, in the country of Laos. While assigned as Ground Radar Superintendent, Detachment 1, 1043rd Radar Evacuation Squadron. On that day, Chief Etchberger and his team of technicians were manning a top-secret defensive position at Lima Site 85 when the base was overrun by an enemy ground force. Receiving sustained and withering heavy artillery attacks directly upon his unit’s position, Chief Etchberger’s entire crew lay dead or severely wounded. Despite having received little or no combat training, Chief Etchberger single-handedly held off the enemy with an M-16, while simultaneously directing air strikes into the area and calling for air rescue.
Because of his fierce defense and heroic and selfless actions, he was able to deny the enemy access to his position and save the lives of his remaining crew. With the arrival of the rescue aircraft, Chief Etchberger without hesitation repeatedly and deliberately risked his own life, exposing himself to heavy enemy fire, in order to place three surviving wounded comrades into rescue slings hanging from the hovering helicopter waiting to airlift them to safety. With his remaining crew safely aboard, Chief Etchberger finally climbed into the evacuation sling himself, only to be fatally wounded by enemy ground fire as he was being raised into the aircraft.
Chief Etchberger’s bravery and determination in the face of persistent enemy fire and overwhelming odds are in keeping with the highest standards of performance and traditions of military service. Chief Etchberger’s gallantry, self-sacrifice, and profound concern for his fellow men, at risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty, reflect the highest credit on himself and the United States Air Force.