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CMSgt Richard Etchberger

DOB: 5 March 1933

Hometown of Record: Hamburg, PA

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Also visit : CMSgt Richard L. Etchberger Foundation website

CMSgt Richard Etchberger

Medal of Honor

CMSgt Richard Etchberger 
Medal of Honor Citation

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded, in the name of The Congress, the Medal of Honor to Chief Master Sergeant Richard L. Etchberger, United States Air Force, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.

Chief Master Sergeant Richard L. Etchberger distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism on March 11, 1968, in the country of Laos, while assigned a Ground Radar Superintendent, Detachment 1, 1043d Radar Evaluation Squadron. 

On that day, Chief Etchberger and his team of technicians were manning a top-secret defensive position at Lima Site 85 when the base was overrun by an enemy ground force.  Receiving sustained and withering heavy artillery attacks directly upon his unit’s position, Chief Etchberger’s entire crew lay dead or severely wounded.  Despite having received little or no combat training, Chief Etchberger single-handedly held off the enemy with an M-16, 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 his remaining crew. With the arrival of the rescue aircraft, Chief Etchberger, without hesitation, repeatedly and deliberately risked his own life, exposing himself to heavy enemy fire in order to place three surviving wounded comrades into rescue slings hanging from the hovering helicopter waiting to airlift them to safety.  With his remaining crew safely aboard, Chief 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. 

Chief Etchberger’s bravery and determination in the face of persistent enemy fire and overwhelming odds are in keeping with the highest standards of performance and traditions of military service.  Chief Etchberger’s gallantry, self-sacrifice, and profound concern for his fellow men at risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty, reflect the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force. 

Medal of Honor Ceremony

21 SEPTEMBER 2010

Air Force Cross

The highest decoration the Air Force can present for bravery is the Air Force Cross. This award is awarded to U.S. and Foreign military personnel and civilians who have displayed extraordinary heroism in one of the following situations: while engaged in action against a U.S. enemy, while engaged in military operations involving conflict with a foreign force, or while serving with a Friendly nation engaged in armed conflict against a force in which the United States is not a belligerent party. Prior to 1960, when Congress established the Air Force Cross, enlisted men were decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross for heroic actions. In the Vietnam era, countless airman performed brave acts which were above and beyond the call of duty; however, of the enlisted airmen, only 20 were awarded the Air Force Cross. Since 1975, only one airman has earned the award, bringing the total to 21 recipients.

Chief Etchberger was born 5 March 1933 in Hamburg, PA. After a long and distinguished career, the Chief was assigned to the 1043d Radar Evaluation Squadron, Bolling AFB DC. The Chief was deployed to Laos in support of OPERATION HEAVY GREEN, a highly classified and covert operation providing precision radar bombing in North Vietnam. Geneva Accords prohibited stationing US Armed forces personnel in Laos except for accredited attaches. Chief Etchberger and other selected personnel were "officially" discharged from the Air Force and hired outside the Department of Defense.

On 11 March 1968, Chief Master Sergeant Richard L. Etchberger was manning a defensive position when the radar site, Lima Site 85 was overrun by enemy ground forces. The enemy was able to deliver sustained and withering fire directly upon this position from higher ground. His entire crew dead or wounded, Chief Etchberger continued to return the enemy's fire thus denying them access to the position. During this entire period, Chief Etchberger continued to direct air strikes and call for air rescue on his emergency radio, thereby enabling the air evacuation force to locate the surrounded friendly element. When air rescue arrived, Chief Etchberger deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire in order to place his three surviving wounded comrades in the rescuer slings permitting them to be airlifted to safety. As Chief Etchberger was finally being rescued, he was fatally wounded, by enemy ground fire. His fierce defense which culminated in the supreme sacrifice of his life, saved not only the lives of his three comrades but provided for the successful evacuation of the remaining survivors of the base.

Chief Etchberger was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Air Force Cross. He was added to the official Department of Defense killed in Action listing sometime after 1981.