An Air Force senior NCO who was killed 42 years ago will receive the Medal of Honor for actions he took after enemy forces overran a clandestine U.S. radar site in Laos.
Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. "Dick" Etchberger, 35, died March 11, 1968, after being shot following an overnight battle on Mount Phou Pha Thi at Lima Site 85, as the radar location was known to Americans, where he helped maintain equipment that aided the U.S. bombing campaign of North Vietnam.
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 some of his crew.
"He should have a 55-gallon drum full of medals," said retired Tech Sgt. John G. Daniel, 71, of La Junta, Colo. Sergeant Daniel was one of the three rescued. "I wouldn't be alive without him."
Following a 2008 personnel board of review of the chief's actions, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley nominated the Hamburg, Pa., native for the U.S. military's highest decoration, which is awarded "for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty."
President Obama approved the Medal of Honor, which will be presented in a White House ceremony on Sept. 21.
ZUI also this article (dated 3 Nov 08) from the Air Force Times:
Etchberger was nominated for the Medal of Honor in 1968, but President Lyndon B. Johnson didn’t approve it. Military officials instead awarded Etchberger the Air Force Cross.
This is where the story gets complicated.
Johnson didn’t sign off on the award because the U.S. wasn’t supposed to have troops in Laos, and at the time of his death, Etchberger wasn’t technically in the Air Force.
Before he was deployed to Lima Site 85 — a radar station used to locate bombing targets in North Vietnam and Laos — Etchberger and his wife went to Washington, D.C., along with the other airmen about to go on the secret mission and their wives. There they were told they would be made into civilian employees who worked for Lockheed Aircraft Services as a cover, said Col. Gerald H. Clayton, then the commander of 1043rd Radar Evaluation Squadron, Detachment 1.
“The site was established and operated by American technicians in a manner designed not to violate the 1962 Geneva Agreements and to ‘guarantee’ the ‘neutrality’ of Laos,” according to declassified top secret Air Force report, “The Fall of Site 85.”
For 14 years Etchberger’s sons didn’t know the truth of their father’s death, Cory Etchberger said.
His mother was briefed on the mission when she went to D.C. with her husband, but was sworn to secrecy. Not until the mission was declassified did she tell her sons about what their father did in Laos.
The official White House announcement is here.