Richard Loy Etchberger
Date of birth: March 5, 1933
Date of death: March 11, 1968
Place of Birth: Hamburg, Pennsylvania
Panel 44E - Line 15
Richard (Dick) Etchberger spent most of his informative years in Hamburg, graduating from Hamburg High School in June of 1951. He was very active in High School and well liked by his fellow classmates. “Etch”, as most of his friends called him was President of his senor class.
Dick enlisted in the Air Force shortly after graduation and took his training at Sampson Air Force Base. After Basic Training and the completion of several electronics courses Dick was qualified as a Radar Operator and a short time later was an Auto Track Radar Specialist. He was becoming a master of the electronics field. He always had dreams of being a pilot but this dream was not meant to be. Dick was unable to complete the pilot training program due to problems from a head injury while playing sports in high school.
He was promoted to Master Sergeant in 1965 and assigned to Clark Air Base in the Philippines.
By April of 1967, Dick’s reputation as an outstanding leader authority in his field of electronics would bring about some more changes in his life. He was assigned to a “Top Secret United States Air Force/Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) project being developed. The code name for this project was “Project Heavy Green”.
This project enabled the use of computer-assisted radar to guide the bombing missions to their targets. Etchberger was asked to become part of a special SAC radar bomb team in Laos. We were not supposed to be in Laos at that time. Since Project Heavy Green was to become a highly classified operation Etchberger and his crew had to resign their commissions and have no affiliation with the United States Military.
In 1968, during one of the bombing missions, Etchberger and his crew were overrun by enemy ground forces. This mission would find Etchberger basically on his own. His entire crew was either dead or wounded. Dick continued to fire on the enemy keeping them from his position. He also was able to direct air strikes and call for air rescue, allowing for the air rescue of the wounded. Etchberger placed himself in the line of fire in order for the wounded to be airlifted to safety. During the attempt to airlift Dick to safety he was wounded by enemy ground fire. These wounds would prove fatal to him. He died before reaching the hospital. The mission ended with twelve Americans either dead or missing in action.
Chief Master Sergeant Richard (Dick) Etchberger was given full military honors at his funeral and nine months after his funeral his family learned that he was to be posthumously decorated for his dedication and unselfish actions to his country and fellow comrades. Dick was awarded the Purple Heart and given the highest award for valor from the Air Force, The Air Force Cross. A recommendation that he also receive a Medal of Honor was turned down, due to the highly classified position of the mission.
Now, 42 years since CMSgt. Richard L Etchberger was killed, on September 21, 2010, President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor to Etchberger’s family during a White House ceremony. Etchberger’s name was added to the Pentagon’s Wall of Honor reserved for Medal of Honor winners in all U.S. wars.
Medal of Honor Citation
The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to Chief Master Sergeant Richard Loy Etchberger (AFSN: 13409393), United States Air Force, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. Chief Master Sergeant Etchberger distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism on 11 March 1968, in the country of Laos, while assigned as Ground Radar Superintendent, Detachment 1, 1043d Radar Evaluation Squadron. On that date, 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 defensive 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 comrades into rescue slings hanging form 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.
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