Medal of Honor Recipient Joins Hall of Heroes

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)

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