In 1967, United States Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Richard Etchberger was planning for his life after the military when he was called to be part of an undercover mission during the Vietnam War. He agreed to participate and was sent, along with twenty-four other Air Force technicians, to run a secret radar site atop a remote mountain in Laos.
Their operation, Project Heavy Green, was devised to improve bombing results and to attempt to convince North Vietnam to negotiate an end to the war. Mr. Etchberger and his men posed as civilian contract workers, and even though their presence was known by the enemy, their mission was successful in the beginning.
A short time into their operation, however, they were attacked by air. Chief Master Sgt. Etchberger and several men sought cover on a ledge under a rock overhang where they were then attacked by foot soldiers. The enemy had scaled a mountain face that was believed to be impossible to climb.
Mr. Etchberger single-handedly held off the enemy while continuing to direct ground strikes and call for air rescue. When the rescue helicopter arrived, Chief Etchberger risked his own life to place his three surviving men in rescue slings and have them airlifted to safety. He was the last one to leave the ledge. As he was being helped aboard, enemy ground fire passed through the floor of the helicopter fatally wounding Chief Etchberger.
Four decades later, Chief Etchberger’s heroic actions at Lima Site 85 would come to light, and he would posthumously be awarded the Medal of Honor. His sons, Steve Wilson, Rich Etchberger, and Cory Etchberger along with the remainder of Chief Etchberger’s family would receive the Medal of Honor on his behalf at the White House on September 21st, of 2010.
In June of 2017, Sycamore Middle School counselor, Molly Hudgens, met Chief Etchberger’s youngest son, Cory, while attending a seminar on the War on Terror at the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge in Pennsylvania. During the week to come, Hudgens, a Citizens Honor recipient of the Medal of Honor, would learn the story of Chief Etchberger’s sacrifice and form a friendship with Cory that would be further solidified when she and her husband, Jason, traveled to Montgomery, Alabama, in March of 2018 to support the Etchberger family at Maxwell Air Force Base on the 50th anniversary of the Lima Site 85 event. Six other educators from across the United States, all friends of Cory’s, also attended and were surprised, along with Mrs. Hudgens, to be gifted grants from the Etchberger Foundation for their respective schools.
The Etchberger Foundation seeks to honor those who have served our country, and they do so in the name of the father, brother, grandfather, and friend that gave his life for our country – Dick Etchberger. Sycamore Middle School was so fortunate to have been chosen as a recipient of a donation from the Etchberger family. In their Commons Area, a display of flags honoring the five branches of the United States military, as well as five American flags, have been placed to honor our Veterans and those who serve. Beneath these flags are painted the words “Honoring Those Who Serve” as well as a dedication plaque and pictures of Chief Master Sgt. Etchberger and his family.
On Veterans Day weekend a Netflix original series honoring the Medal of Honor recipients aired, and Chief Etchberger’s story is an episode highlighted in the first season.
Sycamore Middle School would like to thank the Etchberger Foundation for their gift to complete our Veterans Day Flag Project and for the sacrifice that Mr. Etchberger gave for our country.