Air Force Chief Master Sergeant (CMSgt) Richard L. Etchberger was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Barrack Obama on 21 September 2010. A native of Hamburg, Pennsylvania, “Etch” was President of his Senior Class and well liked in his small town when he joined the United States Air Force (USAF) shortly after graduation in 1951.
In 1967 “Etch” and more than three dozen USAF technicians accepted a top-secret mission in Laos to help in the Vietnam war effort. They would be sent to Phou Pha Thi mountain in northeastern Laos to run an advanced radar at top-secret Lima Site 85, guiding U.S. attack aircraft on missions over North Vietnam.
Due to the secrecy however, they were discharged from the USAF and put on the payroll of the Lockheed Corporation. The standard CIA rule of plausible denial would be invoked if anything went wrong, and of course, something did go wrong. In early 1968, the North Vietnamese became aware of the poorly protected radar site and planned an attack to take it out.
On 11 March 1968, the attack began and quickly overran the site. Etch retreated to a cliff side outcropping, where he fought off the enemy through the night, kicking grenades they rolled down on his position over the cliff. One of the survivors of that fight, John Daniel, tells the story of that night…
John Daniel talks about Chief Master Sgt. Richa…, posted with vodpod
When the rescue chopper came, Etchberger lifted two of his wounded buddies into a sling to be hoisted aboard. He bear-hugged the last survivor and they went up together. As the chopper lifted off, a North Vietnamese soldier unloaded his AK-47 into the bottom of the Huey and one round penetrated the thin aluminum floor and fatally wounded CMSgt Etchberger. He was 35.
Because civilians can’t receive the Medal of Honor, the Air Force granted a waiver restoring Etchberger’s active-duty rank in the 1980s and eventually the nation learned his story this past Tuesday.