Airman to receive Medal of Honor for '68 actions

  • Published
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.

With the arrival of the rescue aircraft, Chief Etchberger, without hesitation, once again deliberately risked his own life numerous times, exposing himself to heavy enemy fire in order to place his 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 an evacuation sling himself, only to be fatally wounded by enemy ground fire as he was being raised into the aircraft.

"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. The following day, an induction ceremony of Chief Etchberger into The Hall of Heroes will take place in the Pentagon.