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Battle of Lima Site 85

The Vietnam War

March 10, 1968
Battle of Lima Site 85

At a highly classified location under the direct control of the CIA, situated in a mountainous region of Laos just a few miles from North Vietnam, American airmen engaged an estimated 3,000 enemy forces of the North Vietnamese Army. Their mission was to destroy a covert TACAN Radar site code-named ‘Heavy Green’, which enabled American bombers to conduct day/night IFR/VFR bombing runs into North Vietnam, targeting high-priority sites.

Lima Site 85 comprised 16 communications radar controllers/maintenance personnel, 2 CIA case workers, and 1 Combat Controller - Sgt Roger D. Huffman, who had relieved TSgt Jim Gary at the site just days before the attack. During the onslaught, Sgt Huffman coordinated and directed airstrikes using A/B-26’s, F-4’s, and A-1E aircraft throughout the night and early morning to suppress advancing guerrilla forces and eliminate distant Rocket and artillery positions. However, many radar controllers were killed by small arms fire and hand grenades from a 35-man sapper team, leaving only five communications men alive after the ground attack. Chief Master Sergeant Richard L. Etchberger was hit by small arms fire from AK-47’s during lift-off of the CIA UH-1 during evacuation and succumbed to his wounds while in flight to Lima Site 36, Laos, and then forwarded to Udorn RTAFB, Thailand.

Sgt Huffman also coordinated rescue efforts with both the TACC and RCC at Udorn RTAFB, Thailand, to evacuate surviving American forces, including many Hmong and Thai defense forces providing security for the site. This battle marked the largest ground combat loss of Air Force lives during the Vietnam War. The siege on Lima Site 85’s secret mission was overshadowed by the Battle of Khe Sanh (Tet Offensive) in South Vietnam, but it's evident that it was part of the Tet Offensive plan by North Vietnam.

NOTE: All radar controllers received the Bronze Star and the Vietnam Gallantry Cross Service Ribbon with Palm device awarded in 1968, except CMSgt Etchberger, who was initially awarded the Air Force Cross but later upgraded to the Medal of Honor and presented to his family in 2010 by President Obama. It's unknown if Sgt Roger Huffman was recognized for his efforts during this intense battle.

Sgt Huffman was assigned to Det 1, 56 Special Operations Wing, Udorn RTAFB, Thailand, and served only his initial enlistment in the Air Force before separating. Unfortunately, he passed away in recent years before he could be interviewed for his perspective on this event.

Operation Photos
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