Secret Radar Tracking Unit Dedicates Memorial

Secret Radar Tracking Unit Dedicates Memorial
September 20th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Secret Radar Tracking Unit Dedicates Memorial

Secret Radar Tracking Unit Dedicates Memorial
Shreveport (LA) Times
September 19, 2008
Marker at 8th Air Force Museum honors 19 lost in Vietnam War
By John Andrew Prime
In what might be their last reunion in full, the former cold warriors of the 1st Combat Evaluation Group, whose radar graded bomber crews in peacetime and guided and protected them in war, gathered Thursday at Barksdale Air Force Base to formally dedicate a memorial to 19 fallen comrades forever facing the enemy.
Though nearly perfect weather greeted the nearly 200 people north of the 8th Air Force Museum, the relatives and survivors of the dead or wounded and the veterans didn't get to see or hear a B-52 fly overhead in review.
The base chaplain and other officials who had been planned for the program were not on hand, and even the B-52 that had been requested for a flyby was grounded.
With much going on in the service and Washington, D.C., base leadership had a valid pass to be absent, as did the B-52. The big birds at the base were all on the concrete Thursday.
"I was told that today was Russian verification day, which means they can't take off," said unit veterans and main event planner Emerson McAfee, who was a member of the unit.
U.S. Sen. John McCain and other local and state politicians were invited but were no-shows as well, McAfee said. The event was free of most media. And aside from military photographers and museum representatives, there were few Air Force people to be seen.
"We've been left out on the stick again," McAfee sighed at one point in the 90-minute tribute to lost personnel from the top secret Barksdale-based unit who died in three separate actions in the Vietnam War.
The last action, in which a dozen personnel were killed, was "the largest loss of life in a ground skirmish by the Air Force during the war." It occurred in Laos in March 1968 when North Vietnamese rangers scaled a mountain on which one of the unit's Combat Skyspot sites, Lima-85, had been placed, and massacred the operating team.
"We lost 12 men in this fight," McAfee said, talking to people who were the sons and daughters, brothers and sisters of these men, or, in some instances, fellow veterans these men had died trying to save. "It's memories such as this that bind us together forever as a band of brothers."
The monument was unveiled in November, with a crowd about half the size of Thursday's event.
"We delayed the formal dedication ceremony until now so we could hold it in conjunction with the fourth CVEG reunion (held) since 1980," McAfee said.
People should "not forget all of our proud former members who gave much to see this country emerge on top at the end of the cold war," he said. "Without their undying support, our bomber force would not have been such an imposing threat to the menacing dictatorships around the world."
Radar Bomb Scoring, or RBS, he said, evolved from simple beginnings "in the late 1940s, from the dropping of bags of flour and manually going out and measuring miss distance to the final days of multiple vans conducting bomb scoring and electronic warfare runs. We always seemed to be ever-evolving.
"From the days of 20-man sites and mostly high-altitude bomb runs over heavily populated cities such as Atlanta, Charlotte, Little Rock, St. Louis, Tampa, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Denver, Montreal, and Richmond. ... RBS was always given the latest technology to provide our bomber force a realistic ground threat."
But the job these men did, and died doing, no longer exists in the Air Force, though its successor could be the Cyber Command force being developed at the same base that served as headquarters for the secret radar warriors.
"We were replaced by an upgrade in technology called the Global Positioning System, which many of us used to get here, me included," McAfee said, noting that GPS, unlike airmen, "costs the government nothing in ... housing, food, medical. So you see we are a dying breed."
One of the 19 men killed is Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger, who lost his life holding off attacking North Vietnamese rangers while wounded soldiers were rescued. He was awarded the Air Force Cross, the nation's second-highest award for bravery. But U.S. Senate passage Wednesday of defense appropriation legislation marks one step more toward upgrading his award to the Medal of Honor. The monument dedicated Thursday has Etchberger's portrait with room for the medal inscription once all of the approvals are in place.
"I had no idea this was going to happen," said Cory Etchberger, one of his sons present at the dedication. Every one of the men who were on that hill and every one on the monument is a true American hero, he said.
Robert Etchberger, a brother of the fallen airman, said in a way his family was blessed.
"We were the lucky family," he told Verna Yeamans, sister of Barksdale-based Tech. Sgt. James Henry Calfee, another of the Lima-85 airmen killed in the attack. Her brother, like most of the men killed that day, was hacked to death or burned and thrown over the side of the mountain. "We got someone to bury. We were the only family that was lucky. We had closure."
Yeamans wrote a letter to President Lyndon B. Johnson after the attack seeking details of her brother's death and still seeks answers today. She urged others in her position to keep asking as well.
"Don't give up. Keep looking, keep asking questions because there are still some answers there that we don't know."
Retired Chief Master Sgt. Jewels Smart, who was with the unit almost 20 years, knew almost all the men who died.
"(The Air Force) took the best of the best" for the secret radar units, he said. "Unfortunately, we lost the best of the best."
John Daniel, one of the wounded airmen Richard Etchberger saved, said seeing the monument dedicated was closure for him. "It was beautiful, our dream came true."
Daniel said he wants to see Etchberger, who loaded him on the chopper, awarded the Medal of Honor. "It should have been done many years ago."

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