WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2010 — The nation’s latest Medal of Honor recipient was inducted into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes during a ceremony here today.
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Roy welcomed the brother, sons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger, who was posthumously awarded the medal during a White House ceremony yesterday, to today’s event.
Adding Etchberger’s name to the Hall of Heroes, where the names of all Medal of Honor recipients are inscribed, marks two firsts, Roy said.
Etchberger is the first combat support airman and the first servicemember in the top enlisted grade to receive the Medal of Honor.
“Since Congress created the E‑8 and E‑9 pay grades in 1958, no other E‑9, in any of our military services, has ever been awarded the Medal of Honor,” Roy said. “Chief Etchberger is the first.”
Roy summarized the 1968 events for which Etchberger received the nation’s highest award for military valor 42 years later. While he was serving as a ground radar superintendent for a secret installation in Laos as part of a covert CIA-Air Force operation, Etchberger and his unit came under attack.
With two of his four-member crew dead and the two others injured, Etchberger single-handedly held off the enemy from the men’s precarious perch on a cliffside ledge while calling for air strikes and air rescue throughout the night.
The next morning, a rescue helicopter arrived. Etchberger braved heavy enemy fire to load his wounded compatriots and another surviving airman into slings dangling from a rescue helicopter. As the helicopter prepared to leave, Etchberger was shot, and he died while in flight.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz said Etchberger’s legend will inspire generations of airmen.
“Valor has no expiration date,” he said. “Courage is timeless. And the discovery of truth, no matter how long it is delayed, sets the record straight.”
Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley also spoke at the ceremony, emphasizing Etchberger’s significance representing Vietnam veterans.
“To a younger generation, Vietnam is a faraway place indeed, present only in the history books, old movies and photographs, and through the stories of aging veterans,” Donley said. “But for his family, and for our nation, for the Air Force he loved and served, for generations of airmen yet to come, Chief Etchberger’s story … will never fade in our memory,” he continued. “Once lost beneath impenetrable layers of security, the story of Lima Site 85 — Dick Etchberger’s example of integrity, service and excellence [and] of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty — is assured of its future.”
Cory Etchberger, the chief’s youngest son, shared memories of his father as they’d been related to him by his father’s fellow airmen. He was 9 when his father died, he said, and his own memories are “few, fuzzy and fleeting.” But a series of commanding officers the chief served with, he said, characterized his father in his annual evaluations as “a born leader,” “bursting with enthusiasm – he gets the job done while he’s still talking about it,” and “the top [noncommissioned officer] in the United States Air Force.”
“Ladies and gentlemen here today, and especially the fine young airmen and women who now serve, or who have served, in our great Air Force: I hope this has given you a better idea of who Chief Master Sgt. Richard Etchberger was, from the perspective of the people who knew him best,” Etchberger’s son said.
“At Amherst College in 1963,” he continued, “President John F. Kennedy said the following: ‘A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.’ To everybody here, thank you so much from the entire Etchberger family – for honoring, and remembering.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)