USA — Fallen Airman Gets Medal of Honor for Laos Actions

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.
Air Force Chief Mas­ter Sgt. Richard L. “Dick” Etch­berg­er, who was killed while sav­ing the lives of some of his crew dur­ing a fierce bat­tle at a radar site in Laos in 1968, will receive the Medal of Hon­or posthu­mous­ly in a Sept. 21, 2010, White House cer­e­mo­ny.
Cour­tesy pho­to
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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)

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