All achievers

Lt. Thomas R. Norris, USN

Medal of Honor

You have a determination not to give up. And my injury — when you see the death and destruction to other people that you see in war — I mean, what I have is nothing. So I lost an eye and part of my head and brain and had some other bodily injuries. I have another eye. You just go on.

In the spring of 1972, an American electronic surveillance plane was shot down over North Vietnam. One crewman survived the crash and narrowly escaped capture. The Air Force launched an unprecedented rescue effort. In five days, 14 people were killed, eight aircraft were lost, two rescuers were captured and two more were stranded behind enemy lines.

Lieutenant Thomas Norris stands in the background at center as Lieutenant Colonel Iceal Hambleton (on stretcher) is taken to a waiting M113 armored personnel carrier to be evacuated. (U.S. Department of Defense)
Lieutenant Thomas Norris stands in the background at center as Lieutenant Colonel Iceal Hambleton (on stretcher) is taken to a waiting M113 armored personnel carrier to be evacuated. (U.S. Department of Defense)

On April 10, 1972, Lieutenant Thomas Norris led a five-man patrol deep into enemy territory. Separating temporarily from his patrol, he traveled alone through the jungle and located one of the downed pilots just before dawn. He led his crew safely back to their forward operating base. Later that day, a North Vietnamese rocket attack on the small base inflicted devastating casualties and compelled the medical evacuation of the one other American officer, the remaining Vietnamese officers and all but a remnant of the Vietnamese supporting force. After an unsuccessful attempt to rescue the first missing flier, two of Norris’s three remaining Vietnamese commandos proved unwilling to accompany Norris on further missions.

Lt. Thomas R. Norris in Vietnam with Nguyen Van Kiet, the Vietnamese Sea Commando who accompanied him on the rescues of Clark and Hambleton. Kiet was awarded the Navy Cross for his role in this operation, the highest award the navy can give to a foreign national. (Courtesy of Thomas Norris)
Lieutenant Thomas R. Norris in Vietnam with Nguyen Van Kiet, the Vietnamese Sea Commando who accompanied him on the rescues of Clark and Hambleton. Kiet was awarded the Navy Cross for his role in this operation, the highest award the navy can give to a foreign national. (Courtesy of Thomas Norris)

On the afternoon of the 12th, a forward air controller located the first pilot and notified Lt. Norris. Dressed as fishermen, Lt. Norris and a Vietnamese comrade, Nguyen Van Kiet, paddled a sampan up the river and found the injured pilot at dawn. Concealing him in the bottom of their vessel, Norris and Kiet headed down river to their base, dodging one North Vietnamese patrol and surviving heavy machine gun fire from a bunker along the river. This extraordinary rescue has been recounted in numerous books and a feature film, BAT-21, the Air Force code name for the original reconnaissance mission.

March 4, 1976: President Gerald R. Ford presents the Medal of Honor to Lieutenant Thomas R. Norris, USN, during an awards ceremony in the East Room of the White House. Lt. Norris completed an unprecedented ground rescue of two downed pilots deep within heavily controlled enemy territory in Quang Tri Province. Lt. Norris, on the night of April 10, led a 5-man patrol through 2,000 meters of heavily controlled enemy territory, located one of the downed pilots at daybreak, and returned to the Forward Operating Base (FOB). On April 11, after a devastating mortar and rocket attack on the small FOB, Lt. Norris led a 3-man team on two unsuccessful rescue attempts for the second pilot. On the afternoon of the 12th, a forward air controller located the pilot and notified Lt. Norris. Dressed in fishermen disguises and using a sampan, Lt. Norris and one Vietnamese traveled throughout that night and found the injured pilot at dawn. Covering the pilot with bamboo and vegetation, they began the return journey, successfully evading a North Vietnamese patrol. Approaching the FOB, they came under heavy machine gun fire. Lt. Norris called in an air strike, which provided suppression fire and a smoke screen, allowing the rescue party to reach the FOB. By his outstanding display of decisive leadership, undaunted courage, and selfless dedication in the face of extreme danger, Lt. Norris enhanced the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. (U.S. Navy)
March 4, 1976: President Gerald R. Ford presents the Medal of Honor to Lieutenant Thomas R. Norris, USN (as well as Rear Admiral James B. Stockdale, USN, Col. George E. Day, USAF, and posthumously to Capt. Lance P. Sijan, USAF) during an awards ceremony in the East Room of the White House. Lt. Norris completed an unprecedented ground rescue of two downed pilots deep within heavily controlled enemy territory in Quang Tri Province. Lt. Norris, on the night of April 10, led a 5-man patrol through 2,000 meters of heavily controlled enemy territory, located one of the downed pilots at daybreak, and returned to the Forward Operating Base (FOB). On April 11, after a devastating mortar and rocket attack on the small FOB, Lt. Norris led a 3-man team on two unsuccessful rescue attempts for the second pilot. On the afternoon of the 12th, a forward air controller located the pilot and notified Lt. Norris. Dressed in fishermen disguises and using a sampan, Lt. Norris and one Vietnamese traveled throughout that night and found the injured pilot at dawn. Covering the pilot with bamboo and vegetation, they began the return journey, successfully evading a North Vietnamese patrol. Approaching the FOB, they came under heavy machine gun fire. Lt. Norris called in an air strike, which provided suppression fire and a smoke screen, allowing the rescue party to reach the FOB. By his outstanding display of decisive leadership, undaunted courage, and selfless dedication in the face of extreme danger, Lt. Norris enhanced the finest traditions of the U.S. Navy.

The following October he received a near-fatal head wound in action and was rescued by his fellow Navy SEAL, Michael Thornton. At first, Norris’s doctors gave him little chance of recovery, but with constant encouragement from his family and from Michael Thornton, Norris fought on. In time, Norris and Thornton enjoyed the unique satisfaction of witnessing each other’s Medal of Honor ceremonies at the White House. Thomas Norris ultimately realized his youthful ambition of joining the FBI. After many years of distinguished service in FBI hostage rescue operations, he now enjoys a well-earned retirement in Idaho.

Inducted Badge
Inducted in 1976

As a Navy SEAL in Vietnam, Lieutenant Thomas Norris completed numerous dangerous missions, including “an unprecedented ground rescue of two downed pilots deep within heavily controlled enemy territory.”

But the story of Norris’s courage does not end there. In 1972, only six months after his historic rescue of the stranded fliers, he was gravely wounded during a firefight behind enemy lines. Rescued by Petty Officer Michael Thornton, he was initially given no chance of survival, much less of returning to a productive life, but Norris confounded his doctors with his relentless determination to survive and recover.

He endured years of painful reconstructive surgery and arduous rehabilitation, until he was ready to serve his country once again as a hostage rescue specialist for the FBI. In 1976, he received the Medal of Honor for “his outstanding display of decisive leadership, undaunted courage, and selfless dedication in the face of extreme danger.”

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(Navy SEALs Michael Thornton and Thomas Norris were interviewed together at the 40th annual American Academy of Achievement program in San Antonio, Texas.)

Let’s go back to October 31, 1972. The two of you, with a South Vietnamese naval officer and two Vietnamese enlisted men had landed deeper in enemy territory than you had planned. You were concealed among the sand dunes, some distance from the beach, when something went wrong. What happened next?

Thomas Norris: The first thing that went wrong is there was a Vietnamese patrol, a two-man patrol that came down the beach. One of them was up on a sand dune and one of them was more down on a beach level area. We saw them. I mean, we were just under cover. We were in pretty good positions. But at about that time the Vietnamese officer — I mean, and he’s thinking intelligence, I think. I mean, he’s thinking we can capture these guys. We can find out what’s going on. So he hollers out to his guys to capture them. Of course, these two enlisted people jump up and go after him trying to capture them. They do what they’re commanded to do. Not the right choice to make.

Michael Thornton: Not the right choice to make.

Thomas Norris: Not where we were and what we had been through.

Michael Thornton: This one guy came up and looked at the guy on the beach, which is 200 yards away, and he says, “Stop! Put up your hands and come here.” So this guy was coming up around the sand dunes. I took my weapon and I cold cocked him. The other guy opened fire on the Vietnamese officer. He jumped down behind the sand dune, and I started chasing him down the beach because I wanted to get him before he got back to that village. So I’m chasing this guy down there, and Tommy is up on the top of this big sand dune overlooking everything. He sees me run up in this jungle, and the next thing I hear is a couple of shots, and I shot this guy. The next thing Tommy sees is me running back out of this jungle heading back towards him, and there’s about 50 people running after me.

Petty Officer Second Class Michael E. Thornton, SEAL Team ONE. (U.S. Navy)
Petty Officer Second Class Michael E. Thornton, SEAL Team ONE. (U.S. Navy)

Our group set up a perimeter. I had gun fire positions already, although they were south of us. I was going to walk our gunfire up from there. Preposition them from there.

So I got on the radio to try and get ahold of the destroyer that was going to be giving us naval gunfire support and I got a young officer, I’m sure, that was talking to me. He had never been used to giving gunfire support to a group on land. Normally they’re called in by forward air controller aircraft, and they’re firing on a position that he’s directing them to. You know, on enemy positions. They’re not used to firing, you know, like I was requesting. And he sounded confused and I was trying to give him coordinates. I had plenty of time. I was giving him coordinates to fire and the type of rounds I wanted him to fire, and I don’t know whether it was that time or the next time. One of them — you know, the guy says, “Well, how long can you last?” And I can’t remember what I said. Mike comes over and he says, “Do you see what’s over there?”

Lt. Thomas R. Norris, SEAL Team TWO. (U.S. Navy)
Lt. Thomas R. Norris, SEAL Team TWO. (U.S. Navy)

Michael Thornton: I had moved myself up on the point. I had been fighting the bad guys up there. I was up on one point and I knew Tommy was up on another. I took that young officer, and I put him in the rear security because all he had to do was look about a mile-and-a-half and see nothing but open beach, but one little sand dune about 500 yards away from us which was by itself. Dang, the radio operator, was with Tommy, and I took little Kwan and put him down on my other flank to where they couldn’t come around the beach, and I stayed up on the point. They got so close that we were throwing grenades back and forth, and I had already shot like 17 guys. And you know, what I’d do, I’d take aim, because they would pick up their head, and as soon as they’d pick their head up, I’d aim right there where the sand was. And when they’d lift their head up I’d crack off a round, and then I’d roll to another position, and then I’d come up. So they could never really find out where I was.

Michael Thornton (center) and two SEAL comrades in Vietnam. (Courtesy of Michael Thornton)
Michael Thornton (center) and two SEAL comrades in Vietnam. (Courtesy of Michael Thornton)

And another reason you do this — we moved all the time — they couldn’t count how many people we had on the beach. They never had a target to shoot at. So I kept picking my targets, I’d knock them off, I’d move to another target.

Keys to success — Courage

They threw a grenade over on my side, and I threw the grenade back. Well, in America the grenades are four seconds, “1,000, 2,000, 3,000, 4,000…” the grenade goes off. So they throw the grenade back over, and I’m going, “5,000, 6,000…” I throw the grenade back. I’m going, “8,000, 9,000…” and this grenade comes over again. And I know this grenade — and the grenade went off. I rolled over and the grenade went off, and I was hit seven times with shrapnel in my back. So I yelled out, and I could hear Tommy yelling for me, and I wouldn’t say nothing and about that time these other three guys came over the top of the sand dune, and I shot one of them and one fell down on my side, and the other two fell back. Well, when that happened — for some reason they quit their offensive. They quit coming forward. So I went over to Tommy and said, “Tommy — ” I said, “Yeah, I’m okay.” And I went up — I kind of crawled over where Tommy could see me, and I was looking across this lagoon, and they had — Tommy said, “They asked how long can we hold out?” I said, “Look across there,” and I had already counted 75 NVA, and they were surrounding from the north and the south side of our position at that time.

Michael Thornton with Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Commander of the U.S. Navy's SEAL teams, which started out as intelligence-gathering units in the Lan Tao shipping channel of Vietnam. (Courtesy of Michael Thornton)
Michael Thornton with Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Commander of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL teams, which started out as intelligence-gathering units in the Lan Tao shipping channel of Vietnam. (Courtesy of Michael Thornton)

Thomas Norris: By this time I was talking to another fellow, and I didn’t realize this until well after the fact, but the first destroyer that I was talking to was hit by shore batteries from North Vietnam so it went offline. The second one came up — it could never get in position because of the incoming rounds, so it could never get into a firing position for us. I didn’t know any of this. I’m thinking, “These guys, how come they’re not firing and I’m not getting any gunfire support?” I mean artillery and naval gunfire support. You don’t have time to talk to them for very long. I mean you’re in a fire fight. We were just being overrun by various groups as they came up. Eventually it got to where you’re hand to hand with some of these folks, so you only have very limited time on the radio. The first time I talked to him I had plenty of time, but after that initial contact my time frame on a radio was very short. I didn’t have time to sit and talk to this guy forever and a day. So as this battle progressed, it got to the point where we were being surrounded. We counted about 150 North Vietnamese moving in action around us. Remember, there’s five of us. Another thing that happened was there was a forward air control aircraft that came up at this time, and I was hoping that he would take over. I couldn’t communicate with him, but I knew the ships could, and I wanted him to coordinate the naval gunfire. That never happened.

I also had called for my Vietnamese junk boats to come down, the support of the cement craft because Woody was on board and I knew we had a mortar on board, and we could give ourselves some fire support and it gave us a way out of there. Well, the destroyers would not let them come down to where we were because they had to be underneath the gunfire line and of course, if they dropped a short round it might hit one of them, which is fine and dandy in practice, but when you’ve got folks that are depending on these people you don’t do that. I needed those boats. So I’m thinking they’re coming and I didn’t realize they had been told by the ships not to come. So we’re not getting any support. I mean, it’s looking pretty bad.

May 5, 2001: Medal of Honor recipients Lieutenant Michael Thornton, USN and Lieutenant Tommy Norris, USN at the American Academy of Achievement's 2001 Banquet of the Golden Plate ceremonies in San Antonio, Texas.
May 5, 2001: Medal of Honor recipients Lieutenant Michael Thornton, USN and Lieutenant Tommy Norris, USN at the American Academy of Achievement’s 2001 Banquet of the Golden Plate ceremonies in San Antonio, Texas.

Michael Thornton: I’ve got bodies laying all around me.

Thomas Norris: We’re leapfrogging out of here. We’re going to have to make our own way to the water and swim our way out. So I called for an extraction, which means we started leapfrogging back. The last ship that I talked to was the Newport News. It was a battleship. I just gave them a coordinate and said, “Fire for effect. Blow this place away. We’re extracting.”

I was cover firing for the group that was coming back. There was a group of about 15 or 20 VC or North Vietnamese coming up on our position and I had a LAW rocket. That’s a pretty devastating weapon when it’s used, and I thought that would give us some time to make a run for it. I had set up this LAW rocket to shoot at this group, and that’s when I got hit.

Michael Thornton: I had leapfrogged back to the sand dune, which was approximately 400 yards away. Tommy picked the sand dune because it gave us 400 yards of open beach. Then behind us to the north was a full mile of nothing but open beach that we could see.

Keys to success — Courage

Michael Thornton: The radioman comes back — Dang was the radioman. He comes back by himself. Like I said, I had already been hit, and he comes back, and he has two bullet rounds in through the back of the radio where he had shrapnel in his back, and he says, “Mike, Da Wei’s dead! Da Wei’s dead!” And I just remembered — you know, I said, “Are you sure?” And he said, “Yeah.” And I just remembered the last position I saw Tommy when I left. So I jumped, grabbed my gun, and I went running back up there, and I saw Tommy laying on the side, and I thought Tommy was dead. The bullet had entered the side of his head over here and came out —

Thomas Norris: Blew out this whole portion of my head.

Michael Thornton: — and the whole side of his head was completely gone. I grabbed Tommy. At this time, we were being overrun at the position. So I got down in a kneeling position and I shot several guys right there. When they saw me — that I was there, they stopped and they started firing, and I grabbed Tommy and put him on my shoulders and started to run with him. Well, I didn’t know that Tommy had told the Newport News to fire for effect. Well, the first round came in, and the concussion hit, and it blew me like 20 feet in the air! And I’m watching Tommy’s body fly off my shoulders and he hits the ground like a “kabloop!” Like that. And I get up, and I’m dazed, but luckily the round hit behind me a little bit to the south, and it really got these guys’ attention. So I went over and I grabbed Tommy to pick him up. I’m dazed from the concussion, and he says, “Mike, buddy.” And I knew he was still alive.

June 2007: At the Lincoln Memorial, veteran broadcaster Sam Donaldson moderated a discussion of the Vietnam War and its relevance to the recent war in Iraq during the Academy's 2007 International Achievement Summit in Washington, D.C. The panel's participants were the renowned Vietnam War correspondent Neil Sheehan, along with three veterans of that conflict: General Wesley K. Clark, USA (NATOs former Supreme Allied Commander) and Medal of Honor recipients Lieutenant Michael Thornton, USN and Lieutenant Thomas Norris, USN.
June 2007: At the Lincoln Memorial, veteran broadcaster Sam Donaldson moderated a discussion of the Vietnam War and its relevance to the recent war in Iraq during the Academy’s 2007 International Achievement Summit in Washington, D.C. The panel’s participants were the renowned Vietnam War correspondent Neil Sheehan, along with three veterans of that conflict: General Wesley K. Clark, USA (NATOs former Supreme Allied Commander) and Medal of Honor recipients Lieutenant Michael Thornton, USN and Lieutenant Thomas Norris, USN.

I grabbed him and I picked him up — half his head is hanging out, you know — and I pick him up, and I put him back on my shoulders, and I started running, and then another eight-inch round came in. Well, this forward observer, they said, “What’s going on up there?” And he said, “All we do is see all these people jumping around and we don’t see anybody.” When I got back to the sand dune, this young Vietnamese officer had already left and started swimming away. The other two guys that I hand-picked got behind that sand dune and they gave us fire support as I was running back, because when they saw me running back with Tommy, they started chasing us.

We got to the sand dune, and I laid Tommy down. I turned around and I opened fire. They said, “Mike, what do we do?” I said, “We swim for it.” I said, “When I say ‘go’ we go.” So while they were covering me, I got Tommy situated on my back in a fireman’s carry, and I was holding him like that. Tommy had an AK-47. I picked up his AK and I had my gun. Tommy still had all his web gear on, and I knew he still had rounds. I was worried about ammunition.

Medal of Honor recipients pose for a group photo shortly before the opening ceremony of the Medal of Honor Convention at Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois on September 15, 2009.
Medal of Honor recipients pose for a group photo shortly before the opening ceremony of the Medal of Honor Convention at Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois on September 15, 2009.

So I said, “Ready, go.” And we started running. They saw us running, and they turned around and started shooting, so we started running to the beach. We got to the beach, and I stumbled and fell and Tommy rolled over, and I said, “Gosh, if they didn’t kill him, I’m going to kill him dropping him all these times.”

Keys to success — Courage

So I picked him up, and I stick him underneath of my arms because I was fine like that, and I stuck his head underneath the water, and I feel all this flapping going like that and it was him! And I took him, and I grabbed him, and I put him in front of me, and I started swimming. Well, when I started swimming with Tommy, the young Vietnamese, Kwan, which was one of the Vietnamese that I had picked, comes flying by me. The surf has pushed him in. He got shot through his right buttocks and he couldn’t use his leg. So I grabbed him. I put him on my back. He was on my shoulders. I had Tommy in front of me like this with his arms —I had him wrapped and I told Dang to hold his arms. And I’m breaststroke swimming like that. And I’m swimming, and all I could do is see all these bullets just flying into the water. After we got past the surf zone, they just kept flying past us. And after we got out of the range of fire, the Newport News — I saw them turn around and leave. I said, “Where in the hell are they going?” You know. Well, I guess this forward observer had told them all they saw was a bunch of people jumping up and down, and they were called off the line, and they thought we all were dead.

Medal of Honor RecipientMedal of Honor recipient Lt. Michael Thornton, USN and a member of the JROTC of Chicago lay a wreath at the Soldiers Field Memorial in Chicago, Illinois, on September 15, 2009.
Medal of Honor recipient Lt. Michael Thornton, USN and a member of the JROTC of Chicago lay a wreath at the Soldiers Field Memorial in Chicago, Illinois, on September 15, 2009.

When I got out there I put my life jacket over Tommy’s head. He said, “What if you get shot through your life jacket?” I said, “Tommy, if you get shot through the chest you’re dead anyway. Who cares about your damn life jacket.” So I give him my life jacket.

Keys to success — Integrity

Michael Thornton: I put my life jacket over his head, and then I took a 4×4 — which is a gut patch about like this — and I stuffed it in his head, and I took another one and wrapped it around his head. And I tied — there’s an H harness, so I took that H harness and put it around my neck and kept him on top of my neck where — on my back. And then I brought the other guy around and put him in front of me, and then I started to breaststroke. And we were in the water for approximately three hours.

Thomas Norris: I gave him a fit though, because I mean I could see — and the blood would wash off — or the water — I could wash the blood off my face just for seconds, and I could see two of our Vietnamese, and I knew Mike obviously was with me, and the other one was hanging on, and I could see the other one. But I couldn’t find the last one, and I kept asking Mike, “Do we have everybody? Do we have everybody?” And he kept telling me, “Yeah, we’ve got everybody. We’ve got everybody.” But I couldn’t see him. I finally turned around and put my hands on Mike’s shoulders and pushed myself off. Mike probably thought, “What’s this nut doing?” And I see this little head way out to sea, and I just relaxed after that.

Once I realize we had everybody.

Michael Thornton: I never saw the guy because of the way the swells were going.

Under heavy gunfire from dozens of North Vietnamese soldiers, Navy SEAL Mike Thornton lifted critically injured fellow SEAL Tom Norris onto his shoulders and carried him in the darkness down the beach into the South China Sea surf. Inflating Norris's life jacket, Thornton kept him afloat and breaststroked for about two hours to a support boat after that October 1972 beach landing firefight near the Cua Viet River. Norris — who had been shot in the head — later underwent surgery. On November 9, 2013, officials dedicated a 10-foot statue depicting Thornton carrying Norris on his shoulders during the facility's 28th annual Muster reunion at the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce, Florida. "It was the only time this century when one Medal of Honor winner was rescued by a person who would eventually get a Medal of Honor for rescuing him," said Rick Kaiser, executive director of the museum. The statue was commissioned by former presidential candidate H. Ross Perot, who is friends with Thornton. The sculptor is Paul Moore of Norman, Oklahoma, who also crafted a Perot-commissioned bronze statue of Gen. Hugh Shelton at the Airborne and Special Operation Museum in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Under heavy gunfire from dozens of North Vietnamese soldiers, Navy SEAL Mike Thornton lifted critically injured fellow SEAL Tom Norris onto his shoulders and carried him in the darkness down the beach into the South China Sea surf. Inflating Norris’s life jacket, Thornton kept him afloat and breaststroked for about two hours to a support boat after that October 1972 beach landing firefight near the Cua Viet River. Norris — who had been shot in the head — later underwent surgery. On November 9, 2013, officials dedicated a 10-foot statue depicting Thornton carrying Norris on his shoulders during the facility’s 28th annual Muster reunion at the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce, Florida. “It was the only time this century when one Medal of Honor winner was rescued by a person who would eventually get a Medal of Honor for rescuing him,” said Rick Kaiser, executive director of the museum. The statue was commissioned by former presidential candidate H. Ross Perot, who is friends with Thornton. The sculptor is Paul Moore of Norman, Oklahoma, who also crafted a Perot-commissioned bronze statue of Gen. Hugh Shelton at the Airborne and Special Operation Museum in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

The Vietnamese, the young officer which was way ahead of us was picked up by Woody Woodruff and said, “Where is everybody? Where is everybody?” And he says, “Mike — I don’t know.” He says, “Tommy’s dead. Mike’s missing in action.” And he said the only two people he saw were still alive were the two Vietnamese he had left there. So Woody radios in to the Newport News. The Newport News radios back in to our headquarters back there that Tommy was dead, I was missing and only the Vietnamese got out, which was all wrong. And finally the — I took Tommy’s AK-47, which I had hanging on me, and started shooting in the air when I saw the junk, and the other junk came over to me and picked us up. Then we called the Newport News and we got us to the Newport News, which I knew was a cruiser. In September that year is when the center gun turret blew up and killed those 11 sailors back in 1972. And they had just come back on the line that day, and it was them that gave us the capability to be able to break contact. I carried Tommy down to the operating room. I wouldn’t let him go, and the doctor said, “He can’t make it.” He said, “Mike, there’s no way he’s going to make it.” The water — the warmness and the cleanness of the water and the salt helped cleansed his wound, things like that, and his body next to my body with the heat. They said, “That’s what kept him from going into deep shock.” Because we had that layer of water, and I was swimming so hard and my body heat went to his body heat too, and with the hot sun, and they said, “That’s what probably kept him from going into deep shock.”

Well we called for a Med Evac and the Med Evac came out and picked Tommy up and flew him back to Da Nang. And like we said, there were no medical teams in Vietnam, and they had to fly a 141 medical aircraft out to Da Nang. They picked up Tommy with two medical teams. They flew him back to Clark Air Force Base.

November 9, 2013: Mike Thornton, Ross Perot, and Tommy Norris at the dedication of the 10-foot bronze statue depicting Thornton carrying Norris on his shoulders at the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce, Florida. The statue was commissioned by former presidential candidate Ross Perot, who is friends with Thornton. The sculptor is Paul Moore of Norman, Oklahoma, who also crafted a Perot-commissioned bronze statue of Gen. Hugh Shelton at the Airborne and Special Operation Museum in Fayetteville, North Carolina. (Navy SEAL Museum)
November 9, 2013: Mike Thornton, Ross Perot, and Tommy Norris at the dedication of the 10-foot bronze statue depicting Thornton carrying Norris on his shoulders at the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce, Florida. The statue was commissioned by former presidential candidate Ross Perot, who is friends with Thornton. The sculptor is Paul Moore of Norman, Oklahoma, who also crafted a Perot-commissioned bronze statue of Gen. Hugh Shelton at the Airborne and Special Operation Museum in Fayetteville, North Carolina. (Navy SEAL Museum)

What were you thinking while all this was happening?

Keys to success — Integrity

Michael Thornton: When I was in the water swimming, I was saying, “God, let me—” When I saw the bullets, I was saying, “God, don’t let it hit me now,” because I knew if I went down Tommy was going to go down. And also the other guy would be going down with me, because he couldn’t swim at all. And then after I had all my guys taken care of, I was the last one. Because it was really funny — after 30 years — this guy was asking for information about me. He thought Tommy was dead, and he was actually on the Newport News. And he says, “There’s Mike Thornton holding Tommy and lying him on the operating table,” and I said, “Take care of my men.” And he said, “Are you all right?” And I kept saying, “All right.” And he said, “There I see Thornton standing in two big puddles of blood,” which was my own that I was — but then my concern went to Tommy because — I mean, like you say, the camaraderie and the love that you feel for each other — because I know if that had been me on that beach that Tommy would have done the same thing for me. And that’s what type of commitment you have to have in each other, and belief you have to have in each other, to do something like that.