Lima Site 85: Vietnam Hero Awarded Medal of Honor

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.

Source: CNN

158 thoughts on “Lima Site 85: Vietnam Hero Awarded Medal of Honor

  1. Woosty,

    Here’s a Favorite Poem Project video of Vietnam War veteran Michael Lythgoe reading and talking about Yusef Komunyakaa’s poem “Facing It.” The poem is about a veteran’s visit to the Vietnam War Memorial Wall. I first saw the video when I participated in the first Favorite Poem Project Summer Poetry Institute for Teachers at Boston University in 2001. I remember visiting the memorial. I cried when I found my good friend’s name etched on the wall more than twenty-five years after his death. It was a truly emotional experience for me and my husband.

  2. Swarthmore,

    “It is so much better that only 3000 were killed verses the huge number of people that were killed in Vietnam.”

    The bad part of it is that thousands of soldiers are returning home with traumatic brain injuries–and PTSD.

    I’ve also read/heard that some are leaving military service to work for private contractors–where they can make a lot more money. There’s even term for it–it’s called “going Blackwater.”

  3. Elaine I am not trying to minimize the damages of war just trying to understand the differences in the perceptions. I was always against the war. My children remember that which is a good thing.

  4. A good military unit is like a family … a few of my children’s friends have made it a career and like the close-knit environment.

    Everything evolves

  5. Swarthmore mom,

    I didn’t think you were trying to minimize the damages. What troubles me so much is all the money these private “war” contractors are making–oftentimes, in devious and unethical ways. We’re depleting our treasury to fight wars in foreign lands. There’s little money left for the essentials back at home.

  6. Philip II of Spain had to declare four state bankruptcies in 1557, 1560, 1575 and 1596. Spain became the first sovereign nation in history to declare bankruptcy….

    At the time the Spain we know today was not the Spain that existed then.

  7. Swarthmore mom,

    NYT: Blackwater’s Shell Companies Won Millions In Secret Contracts
    by Rachel Slajda | September 6, 2010, 12:29PM

    According to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Blackwater has created 31 shell companies in order to win military and CIA contracts without revealing its notorious name.

    Chairman Carl Levin released a chart of the subsidiaries to the New York Times last week. According to the Times, at least three of the companies have been awarded secret contracts. One official said Blackwater, now called Xe Services, and its subsidiaries have been paid $600 million in classified government deals since 2001.

    Levin, who’s conducting an investigation into government contracting, said he asked the Justice Department to look into whether Blackwater had misled federal agencies by using its subsidiaries.

  8. “Levin, who’s conducting an investigation into government contracting, said he asked the Justice Department to look into whether Blackwater had misled federal agencies by using its subsidiaries.” (Rachel Slajda via Elaine)

    I LOVE IT!!!

  9. Swarthmore mom,

    The link in your post needs an ‘l’ on the end:

    I like Carl Levin too – he’s been my senator for as long as I can remember – he does Michigan proud. If the Republicans take over the House (or even worse, the Senate) it will be a sad commentary on how uninformed American voters are. Insanity is doing the same thing (electing Republicans) and expecting different results…

  10. “I am not one to hold up idols. While I greatly admire the contributions of Zinn and Chomsky and others to society,”

    “However, I understand your grudge against Zinn even less than Chomsky. Zinn was one of the first people to call for immediate withdrawal from Vietnam. And he also went to Vietnam, successfully negotiating the release of American POWs.”

    I’ve the misfortune of hearing Zinn speak and to me he is a pompous, self-serving asshole. As to his trip to Viet Nam it was a PR coup for the Viet Cong, but an even a greater coup for the perpetrators of our murderous war. He was held up as an example of the “traitorous nature” of the anti-war movement and thus hurt the movement’s ability to recruit allies from the American political middle. I’m still waiting to learn just what specific contributions they’ve made to society, except for their own self promotion. By the way VT is correct you seem to read everyone’s comments selectively and respond to only what you feel like responding to.

    “Mike Spindell: I am glad you are criticizing the anti-war left for attacking the soldiers who fought in Vietnam.”

    Thank you for your more detailed explanation of what it was like to be in the Armed Forces. It shows how the “disobeying illegal orders” theory is just legalistic bluster covering the hard truth of a soldier’s life and work.

    I think the point that Mike S is trying to make (please correct me if I’m wrong, Mike) is that real democratic political change requires broad coalitions rather than small ideologically pure groups.

    I love the phrase ‘hipper than thou’.”

    Bingo. That is exactly my point and FFN seems to constantly refuse to address it. As for “hipper than thou” that is my creation and as such unusual for me who seems to be the champion of cliche on this blog. Once in a while I can be witty.


  11. FFN, you have nothing to say on the matter son, it pains me to accept it but Toady and his friends have you dead and buried here

    it is not the act or deed in itself that gains the honour, it is the manner and circumstances in which the man acts or performs the deed that merits the honour bestowed

    show respect for the man performing the deed and the manner in which he performed it

  12. Fascinating inputs from various people. But I notice no one in the know. As a sargeant in the USAF who helped fight the war in Laos, and elsewhere, at that exact time in history, I must say that most of you have no clue about what you writing. I was humping ammo and playing patrol in northern Thailand when this site was over run.

    The man is a hero. He sacrificed himself. He got the others out. He was the last man. I only wish I had known him. That man had guts. Chief, you are my hero. I would have gone anywhere with you.

    ps — I went back to college and now have my doctorate and am headed toward retirement. The convoluted thinking and misinformation on this subject is appauling. You remind me of freshmen who just want to hear themselves speak.

  13. What is not well publicized is that CMSGT Etchberger was only the 3rd USAF enlisted man to receive the MOH in the modern Air Force established since 1947 and only the 7th in the Army Air Corps/US Air Force history.

  14. Sorry to resurrect an old thread, but I think there are some things on here that I should respond to.

    First of all, after reading Lt. Col Dave Grossman’s book “On Killing,” (p.280) it seems like the spitting on returning Vietnam soldiers thing was actually a phenomenon.

    What remains is to deal with Vince Treacy’s posts.

    — Just/unjust wars —

    Vince Treacy: “Please, everyone, reread my post. I did place World War II in the context justified, necessary wars when I immediately quoted and endorsed Mespo’s wise statement”

    After rereading Vince Treacy’s post, I will say he did indeed place World War II in the context of justified, necessary wars. Perhaps there is some merit to the charge that I am “challenged in reading skills.”

    — Chamberlain slander —

    Vince Treacy: “I will just say that I think FFN lied when he said my comparison of him to Chamberlain, merely by quoting Chamberlain in his own words, was a “slander.””

    I’m not disputing Vince Treacy quoted Chamberlain accurately. And I’m not saying that Vince Treacy is slandering Chamberlain. I am saying Vince Treacy is slandering _me_ by attributing to me views that are generally held to be, as Vince Treacy put it, “mindless pacifism.” That is why I said “it seems merely to compare me to Neville Chamberlain (a well known slander of militarists.” Perhaps it is Vince Treacy who is “challenged in reading skills,” to quote him.

    Had Vince Treacy asked what my views are on just or necessary war generally, I would have been happy to provide them. But Vince Treacy didn’t — Vince Treacy assumed. That is why it is slander. A definition of slander is “words falsely spoken that damage the reputation of another.” Vince Treacy said I think something which I do not, and something which would damage my reputation. Slander.

    — Mindless pacifism —

    Since my views about war generally are in question, let me state them. I believe that wars are justified if they are legal. For a war to be legal, it must either 1) be in self-defense or 2) get the approval of the UN Security Council. I think that is a good criteria if a war is just, as well.

    Now, certainly, morality and legality are not the same thing and one _could_ make a case that certain wars were morally, but not legally justified. I have read that Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia to stop the Khmer Rouge atrocities might be a good case in point. However, I think it’s wise in this case to err on the side of caution, since liberal justifications for war (women’s rights, democracy, freedom) often are a mere facade for an ugly, inexcusable act.

    I certainly do not hold to the views of “mindless pacifism” that Vince Treacy attributes to me. To address the Gandhi/Jew example: yes, of course Jews would be justified in violently resisting Nazi oppression. I don’t know how he got the idea that I would argue otherwise.

    — First Gulf War —

    Vince Treacy: “I maintain that the first Gulf War was necessary and justified.”

    For use of force to be justified, all alternate means of resolving conflict must have been exhausted. This did not happen. Saddam proposed negotiable offers to withdraw from Kuwait — none were pursued by the US.

    See note 88 here:

    — Korean War —

    Vince Treacy: “the Korean War was a blatant example of naked aggression by Stalin and North Korea. The unified response by the West was justified and necessary.”

    The start of what is called the “Korean War” is much more complicated than Vince Treacy makes it out to be. In 1945 the US and USSR occupied their respective sides of the Korean Peninsula. For several years thereafter, incursions over the 38th Parallel by both sides, and other associated strife, claimed 100,000 lives before the supposed “start” of the Korean War on 25 June 1950. In fact, on that date, there was an incursion from South to North, not the other way around.

    The “The unified response by the West,” as Vince Treacy puts it, was really just a cover for a US-commanded and US-directed operation. Since he mentions Eisenhower, perhaps I can quote from the president’s memoirs. Here he is speaking about Vietnam: “The token forces supplied by these other nations, as in Korea, would lend real moral standing to a venture that otherwise could be made to appear as a brutal example of imperialism.”

    See “Killing Hope” by William Blum, Chapter 5

    — WWII start —

    Vince Treacy: “As for the origins of World War II, I think “The Gathering Storm” by Churchill makes the case cogently and persuasively that failure to confront Hitler, beginning with his reoccupation of the Rhineland, brought on World War II.”

    No doubt Churchill thinks that his actions were a good idea. George W Bush thinks the invasion of Iraq was awesome, too.

    I have not read any serious WWII scholarship. So the question of the West’s policy towards Hitler is something that I have no insight about. However, as I stated before, “Conventional Wisdom” on US interventions is often flat wrong. See my responses above about the First Gulf War and the Korean War. Therefore, I naturally wonder if the “failing to militarily confront Hitler in the years leading up to 1939 caused WWII” line is true. Were there alternatives? Were they pursued? What _was_ the attitude of different actors in the West towards Hitler? These are things I will need to research myself at a future date.

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