This afternoon, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor to the family of the late Richard L. "Dick" Etchberger, an Air Force chief master sergeant who was killed in action 42 years ago.
Why the long delay? Etchberger died saving three fellow airman in Laos during a covert Vietnam-era mission. Because of the secrecy surrounding the mission and its actors, Etchberger's heroism has been kept under wraps for more than four decades.
In a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, President Obama presented the honor to Etchberger's three sons. "Today your nation finally acknowledges and fully honors your father's bravery," the president told them.
"Even though it's been 42 years, it's never too late to do the right thing," Obama said.
One of the sons later commented that his father would have been humbled to receive the Medal of Honor, the highest military honor bestowed in the United States military. "He would be here just saying 'I was doing my job up there,'" Richard Etchberger told reporters.
Etchberger was a native of Hamburg, Pa., and worked in electronics. According to the Associated Press, Etchberger -- who had no formal combat training -- "single-handedly kept the North Vietnamese enemy at bay while helping evacuate wounded comrades from their radar station on a remote Laotian mountain after coming under attack." The following day, he was working to get three wounded soldiers into rescue slings and on their way to safety when enemy ground fire struck the rescue helicopter. Etchberger was fatally wounded in the exchange.
According to the AP, the mission had been kept secret for years -- not even his children knew of their father's bravery and heroic example.