An Air Force senior non-commissioned officer who was killed more than four decades ago will receive the nation’s highest military recognition on Tuesday.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, President Barack Obama will posthumously award the Medal of Honor to Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Richard “Dick” Etchberger for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.”
In 1967, Etchberger volunteered for a mission at Lima Site 85, a clandestine radar post in Laos. There he maintained equipment that helped the U.S. bombing campaign in North Vietnam. But when North Vietnamese rangers overran the secret outpost in March 1968, 16 Americans lost their lives. In his book “One Day Too Long,” author and Vietnam veteran Timothy Castle described the incident as “the largest single ground combat loss of U.S. Air Force personnel in the history of the Vietnam War.”
Etchberger, 35, displayed “immeasurable courage and uncommon valor” by single-handedly holding off the enemy with an M-16 rifle while directing air strikes and air rescue with his radio, the U.S. Air Force reported. Under heavy fire, he placed his wounded comrades into evacuation slings that hung from a rescue helicopter. Only after the others were on the hovering helicopter did Etchberger climb into a sling. He was being raised into the aircraft when enemy fire fatally wounded him.
“I definitely wouldn’t be here if it were not for Chief Master Sgt. Etchberger,” John Daniel, a technical sergeant, told The Ocala Star-Banner. “If (Richard) hadn’t gotten us out of there we would have ended up dead or POWs.”
Although Etchberger was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Air Force Cross in 1968, the sensitive nature of the mission, which occurred in then-neutral Laos, may have hindered efforts to have him nominated for the Medal of Honor.
Today, a granite memorial in Hamburg, Pa., memorializes Etchberger’s heroism. He will also be inducted into the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon later this week.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)