In 1967, after 16 years in uniform, Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Dick Etchberger is starting to make plans for a post-military life when he is invited to participate in a clandestine Vietnam War mission. There’s a catch, though: he must accept the assignment before he’s told of the location. Etchberger quickly agrees and is sent to Southeast Asia with two dozen other Air Force technicians to run a secret radar site atop a remote peak.
Posing as civilian contract workers, the men use an early computer to direct pilots to hit targets with greater accuracy regardless of visibility. Their operation, Project Heavy Green, has the blessing of the highest levels of Washington, D.C., as President Lyndon B. Johnson hopes improved bombing results will coax North Vietnam to negotiate an end to the war.
The mission is initially successful, though the team’s presence on the mountain is known almost immediately. The enemy soon launches a bizarre aerial assault on the camp that is largely ineffective. A later ground attack, however, is not and results in the Air Force’s greatest loss of ground personnel in the war. Etchberger’s actions lead to the survival of three men, but not his own.
With eyewitnesses to his courage, why did it take four decades for the U.S. to recognize Etchberger with the nation’s highest award for military valor? Because his heroics took place in Laos, a country officially neutral toward the neighboring war and off-limits to outside forces. Presenting him the Medal of Honor was impossible as it would have exposed U.S. presence there. It would take decades – and an improbable pathway – before America would recognize him.
Hi! My name is
and I’m a writer based in Northern California.
"The enemy lobbed grenade after grenade, hour after hour. Dick and his men would grab those grenades and throw them back, or kick them into the valley below. But the grenades kept coming. One airman was killed, and then another. A third airman was wounded, and then another. Eventually, Dick was the only man standing."
President Barack Obama
Sept. 21, 2010
I am a former California community newspaper editor and a longtime military public affairs professional.
My first book, At All Costs, was published in 2015. It is a biography of Medal of Honor recipient Dick Etchberger, a Pennsylvania native who had a sterling military career, rising to the Air Force's highest enlisted rank of chief master sergeant prior to his death during a Vietnam War battle at a secret radar camp in Laos. It was named to the Air Force Chief of Staff's Reading List for 2016.
I have adapted the book into a movie screenplay and am now hoping to hit the longest of long shots and interest Hollywood in producing a film about the men of Project Heavy Green.
I am a 4-time recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Award, the highest honor in the Department of Defense journalism, and was previously editor of the weekly Mountain News in Lake Arrowhead, Calif., and the Courier-News in Crestline, Calif.
I got my professional writing start at age 18, working on the newspaper staff at now-closed Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino, Calif.
HOMETOWN: Leominster, Massachusetts
CURRENT HOME: Penn Valley, California
DEGREE: BA, Journalism
FAVORITE WRITER: Herman Wouk
FAMILY: Wife Varina; grown children Alyson, Jesse and Shannon; grandson Ian; and cats Pokey LaFarge and Poser Anne..
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