Later today, President Obama will award Chief Master Sergeant Richard L. Etchberger, U.S. Air Force, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry. Chief Etchberger will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his heroic actions in combat on March 11, 1968, in the country of Laos:
“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.