Chief Etchberger honored at Air Force Memorial

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Amaani Lyle
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
Air Force leaders joined the family of Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger at the Air Force Memorial here March 11 to honor the war hero with the unveiling of his name on the memorial's Medal of Honor recipient wall.

Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Roy and retired Chief Master Sgt. John McCauslin spoke about Chief Etchberger's heroism during a then-classified mission in Laos, where he died March 11, 1968, under enemy fire.

"Legends like Chief Etchberger serve as role models for the latest generation of Airmen performing extraordinary deeds today far from home," Secretary Donley said. "Under these three words: valor, courage and sacrifice, Chief Etchberger's name will now endure at this memorial as a permanent record of our nation's highest esteem."

Chief Roy related how Chief Etchberger earned the Air Force Cross and the Medal of Honor, through his actions at Lima Site 85, a covert radar installation manned by Air Force technicians. Of the 19 men atop the steep remote mountain that night, only seven survived -- three as a direct result of Chief Etchberger's actions.

Despite repeated exposure to enemy fire, Chief Etchberger managed to stave off the enemy, call in air strikes and load three fellow Airmen into an evacuation helicopter.

"He saved many lives that day," Chief Roy said of his fellow chief, noting that Chief Etchberger became the first combat support Airman to be awarded the Medal of Honor and the first E-9 of any service to receive the honor. "These facts strengthen the truth we already knew: Chief Etchberger is a highly distinguished Airman among a very, very select few, and I salute him."

Chief Etchberger exemplified the tenets of the Airman's Creed decades before it was written, particularly its final lines, "I will never leave an Airman behind. I will never falter, and I will not fail," said Chief McCauslin, a member of the Air Force Memorial Board.

"I can think of no more fitting tribute to the honors already bestowed posthumously on Chief Etchberger than this dedication 43 years after his unselfish and truly heroic act to save his fellow Airmen," he said.

Secretary Donley explained the significance of the Air Force Memorial's proximity to Arlington National Cemetery.

"Within the decade, the boundaries of the cemetery will move in this direction and come to envelop this memorial," Secretary Donley said to the chief's family. "While Chief Etchberger's mortal remains lay peacefully at home in Pennsylvania, his name - your name -- will be surrounded by the names of other heroes and remembered here on our nation's most sacred ground in Arlington."

Secretary Donley said people from around the world will come to see the memorial wall, etched with a name that will join a prestigious list of 62 other airpower legends, including Billy Mitchell, Charles Lindbergh, and Jimmy Doolittle.

"Generation after generation will come here ... from the youngest Airman learning of the Air Force legacy he or she has inherited, to the oldest generals weighed down with responsibility and pondering decisions about our future," the secretary said.

Chief Etchberger's name is now on the memorial wall along with 17 other Airmen who have received the Medal of Honor since the Air Force was established in 1947.