By Airman 1st Class Charles Welty, Air University Public Affairs
/ Published March 13, 2018
Retired Col. Joe Panza, executive director of the Air University Foundation, gives a speech before the unveiling of the Lima Site 85 monument and bench, March 12, 2018, on Maxwell-Gunter Annex, Alabama. Panza was one of the pilots who rescued surviving members of the attack. (U.S. Air Force photo by William Birchfield)
Retired Col. Joe Panza, executive director of the Air University Foundation, along with two pilots from Fort Rucker, Alabama, unveil the Lima Site 85 monument, March 12, 2018, on Maxwell-Gunter Annex, Alabama. The unveiling of the monument was part of the 50th Anniversary ceremony which was held to honor the 12 Airmen who gave their live defending the site. (U.S. Air Force photo by William Birchfield)
The Air Force Enlisted Heritage Research Institute hosted a memorial service and monument unveiling for the 50th Anniversary of Lima Site 85, March 12, 2018, on Maxwell-Gunter Annex, Alabama.
The ceremony honored 12 Airmen who gave their lives defending the classified outpost located atop Phou Pha Thi Mountain, Laos, when it was attacked by the North Vietnamese in 1968.
Distinguished visitors and Airmen gathered in the Air Force Senior Noncommissioned Officer’s Academy Auditorium for the memorial service, which included of a candle lighting ceremony and a short documentary about the battle, narrated by Maxwell’s own retired Col. Joe Panza, executive director of the Air University Foundation.
“The site was established on top of a 5,800 foot mountain to provide radar vectors to F-105 fighters so that they could position over the targets in and around the key cities of Hanoi and Houaphanh during monsoon season, when visual bombing was not possible,” said Panza, who piloted one of the helicopters that rescued survivors of the attack on Lima Site.
Among those rescued was Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger, who soon after was killed when four armor piercing rounds came through the floor of the helicopter.
Following his death, Etchberger was nominated for the Medal of Honor for his valor and bravery in combat, although was initially awarded the Air Force Cross because of the sensitivity associated with Laotian neutrality at the time. He did eventually receive the Medal of Honor in 2010 after the mission was declassified.
Members of Etchberger’s family joined those of the other Airmen being remembered at the ceremony.
“There were 12 families that were honored today,” said Cory Etchberger, son of Richard Etchberger. “What we really tried to do was make sure that the families, who sacrificed so much, were recognized today and I think we were successful at that.”
Cory was only 9 years old when his father passed away.
Following the memorial service in the SNCO Academy Auditorium, the ceremony was moved outside to the Enlisted Heritage Memorial Park for the unveiling of the Lima Site 85 monument and memorial bench dedicated to those who gave their lives defending the site.
“We who serve today, are stewards of their legacy of valor,” said Col. James Dryjanski, commander of the Barnes Center for Enlisted Education, during his speech before the monuments were unveiled. “Each of them answered their nations call; they paid the price, endured the burden and met the hardships to ensure the survival and success of liberty.”
These monuments will serve as a reminder to visitors of the Enlisted Heritage Hall of the brave Airmen who volunteered to man this site, and gave their lives defending it.
In addition to the memorial service and monument unveiling, the Enlisted Heritage Hall held its 19th annual 5k Saturday, March 10, in downtown Montgomery, as a way to kick start the Lima Site anniversary weekend.
Find out more about Lima Site 85 and the Enlisted Heritage Hall at http://www.airuniversity.af.mil/Barnes/AFEHRI/