Richard (Dick) Etchberger spent most of his informative years in Hamburg, graduating from Hamburg High School in June of 1951. He was very active in High School and well liked by his fellow classmates. “Etch”, as most of his friends called him was President of his senior class.
Dick enlisted in the Air Force shortly after graduation and took his training at Sampson Air Force Base. After Basic Training and the completion of several electronics courses Dick was qualified as a Radar Operator and a short time later was an Auto Track Radar Specialist. He was becoming a master of the electronics field. He always had dreams of being a pilot but this dream was not meant to be. Dick was unable to complete the pilot training program due to problems from a head injury while playing sports in high school.
He was promoted to Master Sergeant in 1965 and assigned to Clark Air Base in the Philippines.
By April of 1967, Dick’s reputation as an outstanding leader authority in his field of electronics would bring about some more changes in his life. He was assigned to a “Top Secret United States Air Force/Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) project being developed. The code name for this project was “Project Heavy Green”.
This project enabled the use of computer-assisted radar to guide the bombing missions to their targets. Etchberger was asked to become part of a special SAC radar bomb team in Laos. We were not supposed to be in Laos at that time. Since Project Heavy Green was to become a highly classified operation Etchberger and his crew had to resign their commissions and have no affiliation with the United States Military.
In 1968, during one of the bombing missions, Etchberger and his crew were overrun by enemy ground forces. This mission would find Etchberger basically on his own. His entire crew was either dead or wounded. Dick continued to fire on the enemy keeping them from his position. He also was able to direct air strikes and call for air rescue, allowing for the air rescue of the wounded. Etchberger placed himself in the line of fire in order for the wounded to be airlifted to safety. During the attempt to airlift Dick to safety he was wounded by enemy ground fire. These wounds would prove fatal to him. He died before reaching the hospital. The mission ended with twelve Americans either dead or missing in action.
Chief Master Sergeant Richard (Dick) Etchberger was given full military honors at his funeral and nine months after his funeral his family learned that he was to be posthumously decorated for his dedication and unselfish actions to his country and fellow comrades. Dick was awarded the Purple Heart and given the highest award for valor from the Air Force, The Air Force Cross. A recommendation that he also receive a Medal of Honor was turned down, due to the highly classified position of the mission.
Now, 42 years since CMSgt. Richard L Etchberger was killed, on September 21, 2010, President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor to Etchberger’s family during a White House ceremony. Etchberger’s name was added to the Pentagon’s Wall of Honor reserved for Medal of Honor winners in all U.S. wars
At this time the State Senate unanimously passed a measure to designate a 12-mile section of Interstate 78 in Hamburg area the CMSgt Richard L. Etchberger Memorial Highway. The bill mow moves to the State House Transportation Committee for further review.
A memorial in his honor has been erected at Second & State Street in Hamburg. The Air Force Cross is etched on the Memorial and by Memorial Day 2011 the Medal of Honor will also be engraved on it.
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DVD’s from Memorial Day Parade in his honor: $15.00 plus $4.00 S&H
Badges with CMSgt Etchberger’s picture: $2.00 plus $1.50 S&H
A Memorial in his Honor has been erected at Second & State Street in Hamburg.