‘Meet the Author’ with Matt Proietti
In honor of Memorial Day coming up The Union sat down with local author and active Air Force Reserve member Matt Proietti to talk about his book, “At All Costs.” What follows is our Q&A with Proietti about his life and his book on Vietnam War hero Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a native of Leominster, Massachusetts, and came to California in 1985 via the military. My wife, Varina (“Vee”), and I have three grown children, all of whom live in the Grass Valley area. We have one grandchild.
We’ve lived in Penn Valley for 11 years and recently moved into Lake Wildwood. We previously lived in Lake Arrowhead in the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California, where we worked in the newspaper business before getting into real estate sales.
What brought you this area?
We visited here multiple times with family, staying at the Elam Biggs Bed & Breakfast in Grass Valley, which is owned by our friends. Eventually, we moved here, as did my late mother-in-law, my wife’s three brothers, sister-in-law, our three grown children and a couple of friends. Our cousin and his wife are moving here this year.
How did you get into writing?
I’ve loved writing and reading since I was a child. I enlisted in the Air Force at 18 and was fortunate enough to be trained as a print journalist. I left the active-duty military in 1988 but joined the Air Force Reserve and am still in it 30 years later.
I worked in civilian journalism 1989 to 1998 as editor of two weekly newspapers in the San Bernardino Mountains, which was a very similar lifestyle to Nevada County.
I’ve worked in real estate sales with my wife since then.
What is your favorite book or who is your favorite author?
I can’t say I have a favorite author. My favorite book is either “The Drifters” by James Michener or “Lonesome Dove” by James McMurtry.
I only read a handful of books each year due to my work and travel schedule. I’m sort of embarrassed I don’t read more books.
My wife reads two books a week. I read a lot of periodicals. Right now I’m reading “Life,” the autobiography of Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. I’m a music fanatic.
What is your book about?
“At All Costs” is a biography about a relatively unknown Vietnam War hero, Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger, the highest-ranking enlisted U.S. serviceman to receive the Medal of Honor, the top U.S. decoration for military valor.
He and 11 other airmen were killed in March 1968 at a secret U.S. radar site on a mountaintop in Laos, which was officially neutral in war matters. He helped three men survive the attack.
What inspired you to write this book?
I heard about Dick Etchberger in 2008 while working a temporary assignment running the Air Force’s news team in Washington, D.C.
We were told he might be nominated for the Medal of Honor so I did some initial research into his life before I returned to California.
One of his sons heard about me poking around and asked if I’d help him write a book about his Dad. I agreed, though we later decided it would be best if I wrote it myself to give it a professionally reported third-person feel.
What do you find most challenging about writing a book?
Finding the time to research and write it. I was juggling my real estate career and doing a lot of work for the Air Force Reserve.
A foundation started by Dick Etchberger’s sons published 5,000 copies of the book in 2015. We’ve sold about 3,000 of them and are talking about doing a second edition later this year.
Half of the proceeds go to the foundation, which supports patriotic causes and keeps alive their father’s story.
What is your key takeaway or message you hope readers find in your book?
Dick Etchberger and the 11 others who died with him were career GIs, not draftees. They were dedicated to our nation and their service. They volunteered for Project Heavy Green to help bring an end to the war. That’s admirable whether you think the war was justified or not.
Also, most Medal of Honor recipients are recognized for actions they do when they are very young. Etch was a 35-year-old husband and father of three sons who had been in the military for over 16 years when he was killed. He’d had a full life and career.
Where can people find your book?
The Book Seller in downtown Grass Valley graciously carried it for a year or so, but as of now it’s sold mainly online via the Chief Etchberger Foundation (http://www.atallcosts.org/) or by writing to me at Matt@MattProietti.com.
I’ve been known to hand deliver signed copies to buyers in this area.
How would you describe your perfect day?
Coffee and reading the The Union with Vee, then a few hours working on the second draft of the movie screenplay I’ve written based on the book.
A run or late-morning hike with my dog, Reiver, who is named after William Faulkner’s final novel. Then I’d see a movie in the afternoon before having dinner with Vee. I’d probably drink a beer at some point or have Manhattans with Vee.
The perfect day ends with another stroll with Reiver before a bit of reading. I’m usually out cold by 9:30 p.m.
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