Obama to Award Medal of Honor to Vietnam-era Airman

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 7, 2010 - A fallen Vietnam War-era airman will posthumously receive the Medal of Honor for heroism from President Barack Obama during a Sept. 21 White House ceremony.

Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. "Dick" Etchberger was killed March 11, 1968, in Laos during the battle of Mount Phou Pha Thi.

Viet Cong troops overran a U.S. radar site where Etchberger maintained equipment in support of the U.S. bombing campaign against North Vietnam. Etchberger, a Hamburg, Pa., native, risked his life repeatedly during the battle to ensure the safety of his troops.

Etchberger held off enemy fighters with an M-16 rifle while directing air strikes and air rescue from his radio. His actions saved the lives of some of his crew who were unable to hold their fighting positions, according to a White House statement.

He put himself in harm's way again when rescue helicopters arrived, exposing himself to heavy enemy fire as a decoy, allowing three wounded troops to safely board the hovering helicopter. Though his actions ensured his men's safety, Etchberger was fatally wounded by enemy ground fire as he was being raised into the rescue helicopter, the statement said.

Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley nominated Etchberger for the award after a 2008 board reviewed Etchberger's actions.

The Medal of Honor is the nation's highest military recognition, and is awarded to members of the armed forces who distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.

Etchberger's sons -- Cory Etchberger, Richard Etchberger and Steve Wilson -- will join the president at the White House to commemorate their father's example of selfless service and sacrifice.

Etchberger served in the Air Force from 1951 until his death. He served in the electronics career field in Mississippi, Utah, Morocco, North Dakota, the Philippines, Illinois and South Vietnam. He was 35 years old at the time of his death.

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