WASHINGTON — An airman who was killed 42 years ago in Laos will receive the Medal of Honor for actions he took after enemy forces overran a clandestine U.S. radar site.
Air Force 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 to maintain equipment that aided the U.S. bombing campaign of North Vietnam.
Despite having received little or no combat training, Etchberger single-handedly held off the enemy with an M‑16 rifle 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, Etchberger again deliberately risked his life, exposing himself to heavy enemy fire to place his three surviving wounded comrades into rescue slings hanging from a hovering helicopter waiting to airlift them to safety.
With his remaining crew safely aboard, 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 Air Force Tech. Sgt. John G. Daniel, 71, of La Junta, Colo., who was one of the three rescued airmen. “I wouldn’t be alive without him.”
Following a 2008 personnel board of review of the chief’s actions, Air Force Secretary 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 Barack Obama approved Etchberger’s Medal of Honor, which will be presented at a White House ceremony tomorrow. The following day, Etchberger will be inducted into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)