Friday, September 24, 2010

Fullbore Friday

Eventually the truth always comes out.
Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger, who was killed in action in 1968 in Laos, will posthumously be awarded the Medal of Honor on Sept. 21, the White House announced Friday.

Etchberger will be honored with the nation’s highest award for valor for his actions on March 11, 1968.

According to the announcement, Etchberger displayed “immeasurable courage and uncommon valor” when he deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire in order to place three surviving wounded comrades into rescue slings so they could be airlifted to safety. When it was his turn to be rescued, Etchberger was fatally wounded by enemy ground fire.
This all took place during the Battle of Lima Site 85.
An estimated 6-7 Battalions of PAVN/PL troops were assembled at the base of Site 85. General Vang Pao's troops were ineffective against this large enemy force, they were responsible for a 12 mile perimeter defense. During the enemy's advance on Phou Pha Thi, General Vang Pao's 700 troops could do nothing but harass the enemy. Site 85 even called in air support in its own defense, but it was not effective enough to deter the enemy's progress. To paraphrase Dr. Timothy Castle's outstanding book on this disaster, "One Day Too Long",... they waited "Two Days Too Long" to evacuate the personnel on Site 85.
This was the largest North Vietnamese offensive ever conducted in Laos. After seeing the radar image above, how could there have been any doubt that it was time to destroy the equipment and evacuate. The decision makers evidently did not have the whole story or 1) still considered Site 85 impregnable or 2) wanted to squeeze one more day of operations out of the Site. Considering the sizable enemy force assembled, helicopters should have been assigned and sitting on the ground at Site 85 for possible evacuation.
On March 11, 1968, the inevitable happened... three teams of PAVN commandos... under cover of darkness, scaled the cliffs of Phou Pha Thi. (There is also the theory that they came in through the South defensive gate because the CIA trained locals had abandoned it.) Against previously agreed upon terms, Major Richard Secord (now retired Major General Richard Secord and author of "Honored and Betrayed", Chapter 6 concerns Lima Site 85) provided M-16's, Grenades and a few hand weapons to the Site 85 personnel. The non-combat technicians were no match for the trained PAVN commandos.
More on the battle here and here.

Hat tip Mike.


Byron said...

A warrior who was a warrior to his bones: Courage in battle, Loyalty to the King, Protect the innocent.


Grandpa Bluewater said...

Time and well past time. Duty, Honor, Country. Duty and Honor to the bitter end. The backbone of the service is the non commissioned man, the tradition is well kept and passed on by the Chief.

Now his children and grandchildren know of his valor. Let no one ever forget.

sid said...

Courage in battle to be sure...

What gets me though is the idea of a "Secret" war.

Um, if you are shooting at your enemy, and he is shooting back...

Just exactly who is the secret being kept from?

I'm betting there are no illusions here today either.

That anyone thought this base would not be very quickly known by the North Vietnamese, and considered a threat that would require eleimination is simply amazing.

The tragic outcome of this murky "secret" battle in Laos is a good lesson for today too.

Given that military operations are much more dependent on interconnected ISR C4I (or whatever are the latest acronyms) than then, these  components must be considered as much a front line part of the battle as any unit loading rounds into the breach.

Its obvious foes are seeing them that way...

Kristen said...

My father was very moved by this story.  He's an Air Force veteran and he knew men who went out and staffed radar stations in isolated and vulnerable places in the war.  While the pilots got the glory, these men did their duty quietly and courageously.  Daddy was very happy to have this story told on behalf of all of those men.

AW1 Tim said...

There were numerous instances of actions such as this. A shadow war alongside, and underneath the open war. It happens all the time, but the larger problem for all those involved was the top-down management that hampered operations.

Starting with MacNamara, whom I have the utmost contempt for, micro-management became the norm rather than the exception, and, I am convinced, responsible for a large percentage of casualties this nation suffered.

  Time and time again, senior leadership exerted positive control over the smallest of operations, where local control by those leading the forces, or close by in command and support areas, might have, and should have, made decisions differently than those mandated from the White House.

  I have some very strong feelings on these issues of command and control, especially the micro-management style that LBJ and Carter, and to a close second, Nixon used. WE're seeing it now in the current administration where, as before, military operations are tied almosr exclusively to short-term political considerations rather than a long-term strategic goal.

  As DH Hill noted about Lee sending massed columns of Confederate infantry into the mouths of entrenched Federal artillery at Malvern Hill, "That's not war. That's murder."

LT B said...

The book, "Not a Good Day to Die,"

hits on this a bit in Afghanistan as well.  The improved comms have led the REMFs to believe they can do it from their desks half a world away.  The politicians are doing this as well. 

Butch said...

LT B - I concur.  Our global information systems have hurt more than helped, enabling the Thousand Mile Screwdriver.

As a result we both the Strategic Corporal and the Tactical General.  I can easily see FOGOs demanding bandwidth so they can view the action via helmet cams.  Like Halo, but with real flesh & blood.  UNfortunately, no staff pogue has the courage to say "Sir, you do not need to see that in real time."

LT B said...

I will.  What will they do?  Shave my head and send me to sea?  :)

virgil xenophon said...

I was at DaNang in the 366TFW (390thTFS) during that exact time. We opoerated in Laos using that very site--we were only told the barest details of the loss at the time--it wasn't until I reached my next assignment at the 81st TFW (78thTFS)  in the UK that I was able to read the TS de-brief of the msn survivors and participants. VERY hairy stuff. And of course at that time (circa 1969-70) even the USAF TS de-brief didn't have the fuller picture that has since been revealed with the passage of time. Glad to see the CMSGT get his due. But what about the others--the chopper pilots and the rest that were involved.? What about THEIR decorations/citations?

Byron said...

One out of two wouldn't be a bad thing :)

ewok40k said...

I am not sure what was more amazing, using biplanes as bombers in 1960s, or using light utility  helicopter to shoot them down...
And An-2 Colts were used as bombers again in shattering Yugoslavia in 1990s
Regarding remote control of tactical situation, it is going to get worse with  more and more pilotless assets and who knows , maybe ground vehicless and naval assets too. I can see many admirals would be happy with remote control LCS...
cue "Aliens" scene:
Lt.Gorman: Apone! what he hell is going on there?
Sgt. Apone - tries to understand thru static then gets mauled by alien.

Anonymous said...

That's why the O-6s on my staff don't let me anywhere near N00.  Can't expose the boss to the truth, ya know.