Thursday, September 9, 2010
Airman Receives Medal of Honor - 42 Years Later
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Airman Killed in Laos to Get Medal of Honor
September 04, 2010; Philadelphia Inquirer
Richard Etchberger died in Laos in 1968, saving fellow Americans at a top-secret radar station overrun by North Vietnamese commandos.
Etchberger, who grew up north of Reading, Pa., was nominated that year for the Medal of Honor. But there was a problem: The United States was not supposed to have troops in Laos. President Lyndon B. Johnson declined to award the medal.
On July 7 of this year, Etchberger's son, Cory, received a phone call. "Will you please hold for the president?" a woman asked.
President Obama then told Cory Etchberger that his father would finally receive the Medal of Honor.
"It's been a long time coming," Obama told Etchberger, 51, of Schwenksville, Montgomery County.
Cory Etchberger, who recounted the conversation with Obama, was 9 when his father died at Lima Site 85, which directed bombing missions into North Vietnam and Laos.
Richard Etchberger, a chief master sergeant in the Air Force, was selected to work at the radar station and was converted into a civilian employee of Lockheed so his presence in Laos would not technically violate that country's neutrality.
The radar station directed 507 strike missions against North Vietnamese targets from November 1967 until March 11, 1968, when enemy soldiers engaged the facility in a fierce battle, according to the Air Force.
Under withering fire, Etchberger loaded wounded comrades into slings to be raised into a rescue helicopter before coming aboard himself. He was mortally wounded by an armor-piercing bullet that had ripped through the chopper. He was 27.
Etchberger was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross in a secret Pentagon ceremony. His family, except for his parents, who were sworn to secrecy, was not told what really happened.
The mission was declassified years later, but Etchberger was not eligible for the Medal of Honor because of a time limit. In 2008, Congress approved a waiver.
His family will attend a White House medal ceremony on Sept. 21.
This article is from Military.com.
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Charles M. Grist