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. From the New York Daily News:
His mission was the blackest of black ops in a secret war, so the government made him a civilian to do it.
More than a decade after he died in action, the Air Force made him a sergeant again, so he could be eligible for the Medal of Honor.
President Obama will take down the last veil surrounding the Vietnam War-era case on Tuesday in a White House ceremony.
Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Richard Etchberger of Hamburg, Pa., will finally, and posthumously, receive the nation’s highest award for the “conspicuous gallantry” he displayed on a jungle mountaintop in Laos on March 11, 1968.
“He should have a 55-gallon drum full of medals,” retired Tech. Sgt. John Daniel, 71, of La Junta, Colo., told the Air Force.
“I wouldn’t be alive without him,” said Daniel, one of three badly wounded “civilians” hoisted aboard a rescue chopper by Etchberger.
“We’re righting a wrong here,” said Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), who lobbied on behalf of Etchberger’s battle buddies to restore his eligibility for the award. “An American hero is finally getting the recognition he should have had years ago.”
That recognition was personally denied by President Lyndon B. Johnson, according to Air Force historians. To honor Etchberger would have been to admit the CIA and its front, Air America, were running a secret war in Laos, and the politics of the time wouldn’t allow it.
Etchberger’s family was told a lie – that he died in a helicopter crash in Vietnam.