Etchberger legacy lives on at Enlisted Heritage Research Institute
The bust of Medal of Honor recipient Chief Master Sergeant Richard L. Etchberger shines onstage at the Air Force Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy on March 26, 2012. The bust, sculpted by John Lajba, will be a part of the permanent exhibit at the academy. (U.S. Air Force photo by Melanie Rodgers Cox)
by Kelly Deichert
Air University Public Affairs
4/6/2012 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- In honor of his legacy and to inspire future generations of Airmen, two contributions were added to the Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger displays at Gunter Annex March 26.
The Air University Foundation unveiled a bronze bust of Etchberger, now on exhibit at the Air Force Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy . Eleven members of his family also donated his Medal of Honor for permanent display at the Enlisted Heritage Research Institute.
"Both the bust and the Medal of Honor will be treated with respect and dignity," said retired Col. Joseph Panza, executive director of the AU Foundation. "They will serve as a constant reminder of the heroism of a true American hero." Panza was part of the rescue mission that earned Etchberger the Medal of Honor, as co-pilot of a rescue HH-53B, call sign Jolly Green 67.
"We witnessed firsthand the carnage and the extreme, extraordinary heroism that took place that fateful morning," he said.
Panza thanked the family for its contribution.
"You honor the Air Force, the Air University and the city of Montgomery."
Cory Etchberger, the chief's son, spoke on behalf of the family, thanking Panza, the AU Foundation, the Senior NCO Academy and the institute for their efforts to keep his father's memory alive.
"There is no doubt that this is the right place for this medal," he said. "And there is no doubt in our minds that this is where Dad would want it to be."
Chief Master Sgt. Tom Young, director of the Enlisted Heritage Research Institute, spoke of the Medal of Honor donation.
"Let his medal serve as a beacon and reminder of the proud heritage of enlisted men and women who have sacrificed and have kept our nation free," he said.
Lt. Gen. David Fadok, president and commander of Air University, said Etchberger's heroic actions and legacy of valor embody the Air Force core values.
"True leadership and teamwork in the face of overwhelming odds are something to which all American Airmen should aspire," he said. "Service members from all walks of life will have the opportunity, through this donation, to learn Chief Etchberger's story and to better understand how his story has added richness and nobility to our Airman's Creed."
In November 1967, Etchberger and his crew began providing radar guidance to Air Force F-105s around Hanoi from Site 85 in Laos. When enemy troops raided his camp March 11, 1968, Etchberger kept the enemy back with an M-16.
"Chief Etchberger placed himself between his men and the bad guys, held them off for three hours while at the same time calling for help," Panza said.
An Air America helicopter came to the rescue and hoisted up four technicians, including Etchberger. As they pulled away from the side of the cliff, six armor piercing rounds came through the floor, one of them hitting Etchberger. He died before medical attention could be reached. He was 35 years old. Panza and his crew aboard a second helicopter, the Jolly Green 67, rescued a staff sergeant, bringing the number saved to four.
"We lost 11 men that morning," Panza said. "That was the largest loss of Air Force ground personnel in Southeast Asia."
Etchberger was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2010. He is the only chief master sergeant ever to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
In March 2011, the AU Foundation established a display and an award in his honor. The Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger Team Award recognizes the Senior NCO Academy flight most dedicated to academics, physical fitness and community involvement. Each student receives a medallion featuring Etchberger and the Medal of Honor on one side, and Lima Site 85 in Laos, where he was killed, on the other.
The academy display, which now includes the bronze bust, also features the medallions, a portrait of Etchberger and a brief history of his mission at Site 85. John Lajba forged the bust, which will be on display at the academy along with his sculptures of Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Richard D. Kisling and Sergeant John Levitow.