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Vietnam War Airman Posthumously Awarded Medal of Honor

September 21, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Richard Etchberger's service and sacrifice were honored Tuesday with the Medal of Honor -- decades after he was fatally wounded in a secret Vietnam War mission. The airman's sons received his posthumous honor from President Obama at the White House.
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GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight: honoring the service and sacrifice of a

Vietnam veteran.

Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Richard Etchberger was serving on a

secret mission in Laos in 1968 to direct planes to bomb North Vietnam. When his mountaintop base was surrounded and stormed by enemy troops, Etchberger held off the assault, called in help, and managed to get three wounded comrades to safety. Etchberger was fatally wounded when he boarded the rescue helicopter.

His sons learned of their father’s bravery years later. Today, President Obama presented them with the Medal of Honor for their father.

Here is part of what the president said this afternoon.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA,: But the greatest memorial of all to Dick Etchberger is the spirit that we feel here today, the love that inspired him to serve — the love for his country and love for his family. And the most eloquent expression of that devotion are the words he wrote himself to a friend back home just months before he gave his life to our nation.

“I hate to be away from home,” he wrote from that small base above the

clouds, “but I believe in the job.” He said, “It is the most challenging job I will ever have in my life.” And then he added, “I love it.”

Our nation endures because there are patriots like Chief Master Sergeant Richard Etchberger and our troops who are serving as we speak who love this nation and defend it. And their legacy lives on because their families and fellow citizens preserve it.