Airman inducted into Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes

Courtesy photo Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. “Dick” Etchberger, an Air Force senior NCO who was killed after saving the lives of some of his crew during a fierce battle at a radar site in Laos 42 years ago, will receive the Medal of Honor Sept. 21 in a White House ceremony.

By Senior Master Sgt. David Byron: Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

WASHINGTON — Chief Master Sgt. Richard Etchberger was posthumously inducted into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes in a ceremony Sept. 22 following presentation of the Medal of Honor during a White House ceremony the day before.

“Today, we bring honor to Chief Etchberger’s memory and our nation’s highest tribute to his service,” said Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley, who presided over the induction ceremony. “His name will join 17 other U.S. Air Force airmen who have received the Medal of Honor, 13 for action during the war in Vietnam. His story will join theirs in an unbroken line of service, of courage, and valor.”

Etchberger was awarded the Medal of Honor for actions he took to hold off enemy forces and save three of his airmen during a battle that ended his life March 11, 1968. The battle took place when North Vietnamese Army special forces overran the then-highly classified Lima Site 85, in Laos, following heavy artillery bombardment of the site.

“From a jungle perch only 12 miles from North Vietnam, a team of 40 airmen controlled hundreds of airstrikes into North Vietnam and northern Laos during the 1968 Rolling Thunder campaign,” said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Roy. “For his heroic actions, Etchberger was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross, although the details of his mission were kept secret for decades because the United States officially denied any offensive presence in Laos.”

Following the 1986 declassification of the mission and acknowledgement of U.S. activity in Laos, the process to upgrade Etchberger’s Air Force Cross to the Medal of Honor began.

His decoration marks an additional milestone for the Air Force. Including the Army Air Corps and Army Air Force, the Air Force’s predecessors, 59 airmen have received the Medal of Honor, only six of whom were enlisted.

“Since Congress created the E-8 and E-9 pay grades in 1958, no other E-9, in any of our other military services, has been awarded the Medal of Honor,” Roy explained. “Chief Etchberger is the first.”

Because Etchberger’s mission was classified, it took 42 years for this historic milestone to take place.

Donley noted how, despite his lack of training, Etchberger valiantly succeeded in combat action, and that his death during the battle not only deprived the Air Force of an outstanding airman, but also took a son, brother, husband and father from the Etchberger family.

Cory Etchberger, the chief’s youngest son, accepted a plaque and Medal of Honor flag on behalf of the family.

After the presentations, Cory, who was nine years old when his father was killed, shared a number of comments from those who had served with his father.

He said those comments, and the information revealed during the process of upgrading the chief’s decoration, have given him a newfound perspective on his father.

“My father … had a strong sense of duty and motivating burden of responsibility, and I truly believe that his biggest fear was failing the men he served with,” Cory said.

Donley said the heroic, selfless actions of a model airman on a Laotian hilltop will never be forgotten.