CMSGT RICHARD L. ETCHBERGER
1043rd Radar Evaluation Squadron Division
Lima Site 85, Laos
11 March 1968
CMSGT Etchberger was with a group including 2 CIA officers, several Air Force technicians, and a small security force of local troops at the top-secret radar site code-named – Lima Site 85 when an enemy ground forces overran the base.
North Vietnamese air defenses had identified Lima Site 85 as the primary radar site U.S. B-52s were using to bomb North Viet Nam with accurately. They sent a well-armed force of guerillas to destroy the site.
The attack began with a sustained artillery attack followed by ground troops and strafing runs by North Vietnamese fixed-wing aircraft. Etchberger’s entire crew lay dead or severely wounded before the Americans could mount a response.
Being a technician, CMSGT Etchberger received little or no combat training, yet he single-handedly held off the enemy with nothing more than his M-16. Etchberger simultaneously directed airstrikes and called in Dust-Off for extraction of the wounded. He was able to deny the enemy access to his position long enough for A CIA UH-1 aircraft to respond, shooting down one of the enemy aircraft
With Dust-Off arrival, Etchberger exposed himself to heavy enemy fire and went to work getting his wounded men into the rescue sling, then providing covering fire as they were hoisted.
Once all of Echberger’s men and the CIA officers were safe aboard the Dust-Off bird, CMSGT Etchberger finally climbed into an evacuation sling himself. Enemy ground fire focused on the aircraft and the Warrior hanging below it. CMSGT Richard L. Etchberger was hit by ground fire as he was hoisted, he bled to death before he could get to medical care.
Although the Dept. of the Air Force submitted Etchberger to be awarded the Medal of Honor and the approval of the award, the Top Secret nature of the mission meant the Air Force did not want the publicity of awarding the MOH.
Etchberger was secretly awarded the Air Force Cross since details of the mission were classified until the mid-1980s. Etchberger’s wife, Catherine, who accepted the honor on his behalf, was told the real story of what happened to her husband but was sworn to secrecy – a secret she kept for the rest of her life.
Once Etchberger’s mission classification was downgraded from Top-Secret, the details of his heroism were made public. CMSGT Etchberger’s Air Force Cross was upgraded to the Medal of Honor in 2010.
CMSGT Etchberger’s gallantry is too voluminous to fit on this page – I encourage you to check the History Net link and peruse the details of that day in Laos.