Monday, November 16, 2015

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” *



 Influenced by a trip to Lackland AFB and viewing a monument to USAF (and it's predecessor organizations) Medal of Honor Recipients, I started researching the stories of those on the monument I didn't know.  Today I'll talk about CMSGT Richard L Etchberger.  One would have thought that a Medal of Honor awarded to a Chief Master Sergeant would have caught my eye.  It certainly did on the monument.  The position of the Chiefs name on the monument should have been a clue.

I've mentioned in various posts that I've read Mark Barent's Wings of War series multiple times.  While fiction, they were all based on true events.  Except one, I thought.

Turns out what I thought was Mr Barent's exception, Eagle Station, was actually based on a true but classified operation.  The battle fought in the book actually happened and that battle is where Chief Etchberger earned the Medal of Honor.


From Chief Etchberger's citation




"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Chief Etchberger and his team of technicians were manning a top secret defensive position at Lima Site 85 when the base was overrun by an enemy ground force. Receiving sustained and withering heavy artillery attacks directly upon his unit's position, Chief Etchberger's entire crew lay dead or severely wounded. Despite having received little or no combat training, Chief Etchberger single-handedly held off the enemy with an M-16, while simultaneously directing air strikes into the area and calling for air rescue. Because of his fierce defense and heroic and selfless actions, he was able to deny the enemy access to his position and save the lives of his remaining crew. With the arrival of the rescue aircraft, Chief Etchberger, without hesitation, repeatedly and deliberately risked his own life, exposing himself to heavy enemy fire in order to place three surviving wounded comrades into rescue slings hanging from the hovering helicopter waiting to airlift them to safety. With his remaining crew safely aboard, Chief Etchberger finally climbed into an evacuation sling himself, only to be fatally wounded by enemy ground fire as he was being raised into the aircraft. Chief Etchberger's bravery and determination in the face of persistent enemy fire and overwhelming odds are in keeping with the highest standards of performance and traditions of military service. Chief Etchberger's gallantry, self-sacrifice, and profound concern for his fellow men at risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty, reflect the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force."
 To rephrase:
"The Americans operating the radar that night were killed almost immediately. Etchberger’s team, which was resting nearby, managed to escape the initial slaughter and take cover on a ledge at about 3 a.m. However, the North Vietnamese soon discovered Etchberger and the six Americans who were still alive out of the original 19, and opened fire. Staff Sergeant Henry Gish was shot and wounded; he died after being wounded again a short time later. Technical Sergeant Donald Springsteadah also was hit and killed almost immediately. A third airman, Staff Sgt. John “J.D.” Daniel, was shot in both legs, but was alive. Captain Stanley J. Sliz was wounded and unconscious. As Daniel recalled in a recent interview, “Everybody was either dead or wounded except Dick Etchberger.” Though the Americans were in bad shape, those who still could fought back.
Despite withering artillery fire, Etchberger single handedly held off the attackers with an M-16 as he and the others kicked away the enemy grenades being thrown at them before they could explode. At one point, one fell out of reach for him to push it away with his arms, so Daniel pushed Gish’s dead body onto the grenade to absorb the blast.
Using Daniel’s radio, he and Etchberger directed American A-1E Skyraiders against the enemy. They repeatedly bombed the site and the North Vietnamese attackers. As dawn broke, a CIA-operated UH-1H Huey managed to reach the stranded Americans. Ignoring the hail of enemy bullets pinging all around him, Etchberger carried Daniel to a rescue sling, and then he helped Sliz, who was now awake and sufficiently alert, to get into the helicopter.
Suddenly a fifth American, Staff Sgt. Bill Husband, who had been “playing possum,” jumped up and ran toward the helicopter. Etchberger, who had refused to be evacuated until the others had been rescued, now saved Husband’s life by embracing him in a bearhug, and both men were lifted into the helicopter."
Ok,  Chief Etchberger is a Radar Operator, not an Infantryman, or even Air Police.  He works a Radar.  I get how he could probably direct air strikes, since that was what the radar site was doing.  But hold off enemy attacks with his M-1 while doing that?  I think he probably clanked a bit when he walked.

Two things stand out about this citation both of which have happened in prior postings.  Chief Etchberger went above and beyond the call of duty in protecting his men but gets killed at the last moment when victory seems attainable.  Rolling the dice and losing in no way denigrates the valor displayed in his actions.

Second, since this Medal was awarded 42 years after the fact, it appears politics again played a role.  Either LBJ directly spiked the Medal or influenced the USAF Vice Chief of Staff to spike it, because officially we weren't supposed to have troops in Laos. Since we didn't have troops in country how could we award a MOH for action in that country. Course the North Vietnamese weren't supposed to have troops in country either, but that didn't seem to stop them.  Can you politicians please stop playing games that cost good people their lives?

And the answer to that stupid question, Juvat, is no.











*Albert Schweitzer

20 comments:

  1. Another great post Juvat.

    I've read Mark Berent's series of books a few times, time to trot them back out again, they're excellent.

    The more I read about LBJ (also having lived through that time period) the more I'm convinced that we should "Cromwell" his dead ass. Sumbitch still pisses me off.

    While being trained for combat is a plus, some folks are natural warriors. I do believe Chief Etchberger was one of those. He definitely clanked when he walked.

    Well done Juvat, well done.

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    1. Thanks, Sarge, Reread Eagle Station on the trip home, last night, yesterday and the day before. (It's a long way from Auckland). Berent jazzed it up a bit, but the basic facts match the Citation. Having read the book again, and passing by LBJ, I honked a couple of times and rendered proper hand gesture. It was 2 AM, so I needed something to keep my occupied.
      Pictures and stories are being processed as we speak. Suffice it to say, I'm pretty sure "New Zealand" in Maori means "Land of a Gazillion shades of Green", and the Premium Beverage package, while economically prudent, can lead to some interesting discussions.

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    2. Ah, tales of New Zealand. I think the blog needs its own haka.

      I can't wait to hear about the Premium Beverage package.

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    3. Macallan 18 = No Charge. Life was good!

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  2. In one of the many emails I get, one was claiming that our LBJ administration was actually telling the North Vietnamses which targets were going to be hit the next day, so as to minimize civilian casualties and all them to get AAA defenses ready.

    KNowing what I have known about McNamera et al I wouldn't put that past them.

    Yes, politics trumped all in Vietnam. Look at our stupid ROE rules in Afghanistan today.

    I hope LBJ and McNamera are surrounded by the 50,000 all demanding "why"

    Sgt Etchberger sounds like the Air Force version of Sgt Rock (remember him?? ;-) )

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    1. Interesting. Not sure I believe it, but interesting.

      Re: the 58,220. I'm sure there are a few that will be in the same place as LBJ and McNamara, but I think a significant amount will be in a better place.

      Yes, I do remember Sgt Rock

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  3. The thing about radar operators is, that when there is "down time," we use it to hone other skills, some of which may become useful.

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    1. The Chief must have used his "down time"......Wisely!

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  4. I remember a great lecture about Chief Etchberger in swimmer school. The importance of example cannot be overstated.

    And speaking of examples, so long as most (very nearly all imo) Americans reward (intentionally or through the application of massive apathy) political gamesmanship, then no, the games aren't gonna stop. The price will continue to be paid in the blood of real Americans.

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    1. Your second paragraph is why we should continue to hound Hillary about Benghazi until the day she dies. What difference, at this point does it make? Simple. You screwed up and American's died. Compared to the Office you are now seeking, you had limited power. Now you want virtually unlimited power? Why? To screw up bigger, better, faster? No, even if I have to vote for Sheba the syphlitic camel, or some other lowlife like a politician, No!

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  5. Great tale, well told. I wish that if politicians lie, they at least have the balls to man up to it if the evidence comes in against them.

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    1. Thanks, I'm going to change your second sentence slightly and change the if to when. Politicians lie,sometimes they have to. It's acceptable when national interests are at stake. It is not acceptable when personal/political interests are at stake. (e.g. "What difference, at this point, does it make?")

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  6. Doesn't matter what branch of service, a true leader stands up and leads.

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    1. No, branch of service matters none. Heroes are defined by actions, not by words. Ponder that all Ye Noble Peace Prize Winnahs!

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  7. I was reading thru email this am, and this popped up high enough for me to read it:

    Nothing is so contagious as example, and we never do very good deeds or very evil ones without producing imitations. We copy the good deeds in a spirit of emulation, and the bad ones because of the malignity of our nature — which shame used to hold under lock and key, but an example sets free. Francois de La Rochefoucauld

    I imagine this is old hat to the francophiles on here, but to this two bit Texan, I feel like I struck gold. Thanks for posting these Heroic stories (with heroes worth emulating!)

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    1. Excellent quote! Explains a bit about school shootings and other things along that line.
      Thanks.

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    2. I remember reading the TS After-action rpt while stationed @RAF Woodbridge 69-71. Unbelievable story. **FWIW Lima 85 is referred to as STOL site 85 in some accounts..

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    3. I thought tales of the Premium Bevarage Package might pique your interest VX. :-)

      I'll bet that was an interesting After Action Report.

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  8. Here's the CHECO report- http://www.geocities.ws/koratmahknut/warinlaos/Lima85/excerptschecols85.htm I've had some discussions with Neil Hansen, who was AA, and flew in there a few times. It's a horror story of the first order...

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    1. Thanks, Should make for an interesting read.

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