Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Richard Etchberger has finally received the recognition that he deserved back in 1968. Etchberger will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his saving the lives of his comrades in a battle in Laos — at the loss of his own life. The problem is that his heroism occurred in a place where our government stated publicly that there were no combat troops. To cover that lie, Etchberger’s bravery had to be buried with the truth.
While the military wanted Etchberger honored at the time, President Lyndon Johnson refused to reveal that the United States had lied to the public and international community (even though Laos itself was aware of our troops).
Etchberger was part of a secret U.S. Air Force radar base used to guide bombers that was located just 120 miles from Hanoi in North Vietnam.
In March of 1968, over 3000 North Vietnamese troops attacked the site, called Lima Site 85, that was defended by fewer than a couple dozen U.S. airmen and about a thousand Laotian soldiers.
Eight Americans were killed and several more wounded. Etchberger deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire “in order to place his three surviving wounded comrades in the rescue slings permitting them to be airlifted to safety.”
Legislation was need to waive the usual rule that such honors have to be awarded within two years of the subject action. Rep. Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota (Etchberger was from Bismarck) helped push for the reconsideration.
Congratulations to the Etchberger family which deserves this recognition from a grateful nation. It is no replacement for their loved one, but it finally allows a nation to honor his selfless courage.
Well done, Master Sergeant, well done.