- Associated Press - Monday, June 23, 2014

MINOT, N.D. (AP) - Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger’s three sons didn’t know for many years the full details of his death during the Vietnam War.

Their dad had been stationed at a secret radar site in Laos when he died helping save the lives of three comrades during the Battle of Lima Site 85 on March 11, 1968.

Forty-two years later, Etchberger, who was stationed at one time at a radar site near Bismarck, was honored posthumously with the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award for valor.

Etchberger’s sons, Cory Etchberger, of Collegeville, Pa., Richard Etchberger, of Vernal, Utah, and Steve Wilson, of Redlands, Calif., joined the president at the White House on Sept. 21, 2010, to accept the Medal of Honor on behalf of their father.

Etchberger’s three sons and Cory Etchberger’s daughter, Madison, of Collegeville, were special guests at the dedication of the B-52 model at the Dakota Territory Air Museum in Minot June 5. They also gave a presentation about their father and the foundation that the sons have set up in his name to assist Air Force members and their families.

Chief Etchberger’s sons told the story of their father and the secret mission he was on in Laos:

Richard Etchberger enlisted in the Air Force in 1951. Later he met their mom, who was working as a waitress in a restaurant where he would stop. The couple eloped to get married. When their mother joined the family she brought along her son Steve who later was joined by two brothers, Richard and Cory.

The family lived in various places. When they were living in Bismarck while their dad was assigned to a radar site near the city, he started traveling around western United States with mobile radar facilities that were on trains. Chief Etchberger and other military members were training to make the facilities more mobile so they could take them to places in Southeast Asia for communications and other uses.

While living at Bismarck and other locations, the sons remember their father was always helping and watching out for other airmen and their families, sometimes having them over to their house for dinner in the Etchberger home.

They remember when they lived in the Philippines that the wounded from the Vietnam War would come to Clark Air Base. Their dad would go to the nurses’ station at the military hospital on the air base and ask if anyone was there who would like to come home with him to join his family for a meal. Those who did enjoyed a meal and time spent with the family.

Chief Etchberger and other military members were stationed at Phou Pha Thi, known as Lima Site 85 near the North Vietnam border, a secret radar base in the neutral country of Laos in the 1960s. The radar station directed more than 500 strike missions against North Vietnamese targets for several months until March 11, 1968, when enemy soldiers attacked the U.S. military members.

The Air Force had recruited its top folks for the radar station mission in Laos. For the mission the men were discharged from the Air Force and hired by Lockheed as civilian employees.

All went to the Pentagon where the airmen’s wives signed secrecy statements basically saying ‘we’ll tell you as much as we can but you can never repeat this to anybody.’ Etchberger’s wife and other wives signed the statements and did as they were told.

The military men going to Laos could take their families anywhere in the United States but they were instructed it could not be on an Air Force base. Chief Etchberg took his family to his hometown in Hamburg, Pa.

After their presentation, a Minot audience member asked the sons what their dad was like as a father. Steve Wilson replied, “He was a no-nonsense kind of guy. Not a mean guy but he commanded your respect and I never heard him once raise his voice.He could get his point across right away. You never asked a second time.”

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