The White House announcement last week that a Pennsylvania serviceman killed in the Vietnam War will get the Medal of Honor points to how sneakily the U.S. government conducted the war.
Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger of Hamburg was nominated for the military’s highest award for bravery after rescuing three wounded comrades in March 1968. As CNN reported, President Lyndon B. Johnson squelched the nomination because Etchberger’s heroics happened at a secret base in neutral Laos. Johnson didn’t want to get into political hot water over having troops in a country where the U.S. wasn’t supposed to have any.
Sound familiar? Two years later, President Richard M. Nixon set off a firestorm of antiwar protests across America when he sent U.S. ground forces into Cambodia to attack North Vietnamese and Viet Cong bases there. Many Americans saw Nixon’s gambit for what it was: a fearful widening of an already unpopular war, done on the sly. He had ordered the May 1970 Cambodia invasion on his own, without consulting Congress.
Some protests of the incursion turned deadly. National Guardsmen fired into a group of demonstrators at Kent State University in Ohio, killing four students. The nation was coming unhinged, but tensions eased somewhat when Nixon pulled the troops out of Cambodia that summer and said he would continue the withdrawals from Vietnam begun the year before.
The Vietnam troop pullouts were peculiar in that replacements were going in at the same time. My cousin Nicky Venditti, a 20-year-old Army helicopter pilot, was one of them. He went to Vietnam in the summer of ’69 after the withdrawals had started and was dead in 11 days. http://www.davidvenditta.com/
It’s good and proper that Washington will honor Etchberger with a long-overdue Medal of Honor. As his son Cory told the Reading Eagle, “It has been a long journey, but it is very heartening to know that Dad’s actions will now be finally fully recognized.”
That recognition should also bring a heightened awareness of what happened in the Vietnam War, especially now that we are becoming more heavily involved in an eerily similar military adventure in Afghanistan.