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Thomas Rolland Norris
Norris in 2008
|Born||January 14, 1944|
Jacksonville, Florida, U.S.
|Years of service||1967–1975|
|Other work||FBI agent|
Thomas Rolland Norris (born January 14, 1944) is a retired United States Navy SEAL who received the Medal of Honor for his ground rescue with the assistance of Petty Officer Third Class Nguyen Van Kiet of two downed pilots in Quang Tri Province, Vietnam on April 10–13, 1972. At the time of the action, Lieutenant Norris was a SEAL Advisor with the Strategic Technical Directorate Assistance (STDA) Team. The STDA was known as Studies and Observations Group prior to 1971.
The Medal of Honor is the United States of America's highest and most prestigious personal military decoration that may be awarded to recognize U.S. military service members who have distinguished themselves by acts of valor. The medal is normally awarded by the President of the United States in the name of the U.S. Congress. Because the medal is presented "in the name of Congress", it is often referred to informally as the "Congressional Medal of Honor". However, the official name of the current award is "Medal of Honor". Within the United States Code the medal is referred to as the "Medal of Honor", and less frequently as "Congressional Medal of Honor". U.S. awards, including the Medal of Honor, do not have post-nominal titles, and while there is no official abbreviation, the most common abbreviations are "MOH" and "MH".
Norris was one of three SEALs to receive the Medal of Honor for actions during the Vietnam War.
The Vietnam War, also known as the Second Indochina War, and in Vietnam as the Resistance War Against America or simply the American War, was an undeclared war in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. It was the second of the Indochina Wars and was officially fought between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. North Vietnam was supported by the Soviet Union, China, and other communist allies; South Vietnam was supported by the United States, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand and other anti-communist allies. The war is considered a Cold War-era proxy war from some US perspectives. It lasted some 19 years with direct U.S. involvement ending in 1973 following the Paris Peace Accords, and included the Laotian Civil War and the Cambodian Civil War, resulting in all three countries becoming communist states in 1975.
Thomas Norris was born on January 14, 1944 in Jacksonville, Florida. As a youth, he was a member of the Boy Scouts of America and attained the rank of Eagle Scout. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology with a specialty in Criminology from the University of Maryland. While at the University of Maryland, in 1965 and 1966, he was an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) wrestling champion.
Jacksonville is the most populous city in Florida, the most populous city in the southeastern United States and the largest city by area in the contiguous United States. It is the seat of Duval County, with which the city government consolidated in 1968. Consolidation gave Jacksonville its great size and placed most of its metropolitan population within the city limits. As of 2017, Jacksonville's population was estimated to be 892,062. The Jacksonville metropolitan area has a population of 1,523,615 and is the fourth largest in Florida.
The Boy Scouts of America is the largest scouting organization and one of the largest youth organizations in the United States, with about 2.3 million youth participants and about one million adult volunteers. The BSA was founded in 1910, and since then, about 110 million Americans participated in BSA programs at some time in their lives. BSA is part of the international Scout Movement and became a founding member organization of the World Organization of the Scout Movement in 1922.
Eagle Scout is the highest achievement or rank attainable in the Scouts BSA program of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). Since its inception in 1911, only four percent of Scouts have earned this rank after a lengthy review process. The Eagle Scout rank has been earned by over 2.5 million youth.
He hoped to join the Navy and fly jets, but he had problems with his visual acuity and depth perception that disqualified him from becoming a pilot. He then became a Navy SEAL. Norris struggled during BUD/S training, and the instructors seriously discussed washing him out of the course.Ultimately however, the instructors decided to allow Norris to keep trying to finish the training, and he graduated from BUD/S Class 45. Norris completed his first tour of duty in Vietnam with SEAL Team TWO earning Bronze Star Medal with combat "V" device.
The average member of the United States Navy's Sea, Air, Land Teams (SEALs) spends over a year in a series of formal training environments before being awarded the Special Warfare Operator Naval Rating and the Navy Enlisted Classification (NEC) 5326 Combatant Swimmer (SEAL) or, in the case of commissioned naval officers, the designation 1130 Special Warfare Officer. All Navy SEALs must attend and graduate from their rating's 24-week "A" School known as Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) school, a basic parachutist course and then the 26-week SEAL Qualification Training program.
In April 1972, Norris was one of few remaining SEALs in Vietnam serving with MACVSOG Danang Naval Advisory Detachment. When Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton was shot down behind enemy lines, aerial combat search and rescue operations failed, leading to the loss of five additional aircraft and the death of 11 or more airmen, two captured, and three more down and needing rescue. Norris was tasked with mounting a ground operation to recover Lt. Col. Hambleton, 1st Lt. Mark Clark, and 1st Lt. Bruce Walker from behind enemy lines. Assisted by Vietnamese Sea Commando forces, he and VNN Petty Officer Nguyen Van Kiet went more than 2 kilometers (1.2 mi) behind enemy lines and successfully rescued two of the downed American aviators. Walker was discovered and killed by the NVA. Though Norris at first rejected the honor, he was recognized with the Medal of Honor in 1975. His actions were dramatized in the movie Bat*21.
Iceal E. "Gene" Hambleton, ranked Lieutenant Colonel, was a United States Air Force navigator and electronic warfare officer who was shot down over South Vietnam during the 1972 Easter Offensive. He was aboard an EB-66 aircraft whose call sign was Bat 21. As the ranking navigator/EWO on the aircraft, he was seated immediately behind the pilot, giving him the call sign "Bat 21 Bravo". He survived for 11 1⁄2 days behind enemy lines until he was retrieved in a ground operation. His rescue was the longest and most costly search and rescue mission during the Vietnam War. He received the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal and a Purple Heart for his actions during this mission.
Combat search and rescue (CSAR) are search and rescue operations that are carried out during war that are within or near combat zones.
The Republic of Vietnam Navy was the naval branch of the South Vietnamese military, the official armed forces of the former Republic of Vietnam from 1955 to 1975. The early fleet consisted of boats from France. After 1955 and the transfer of the armed forces to Vietnamese control, the fleet was supplied from the United States. With assistance from the U.S., the VNN became the largest Southeast Asian navy, with 42,000 personnel, 672 amphibious ships and craft, 20 mine warfare vessels, 450 patrol craft, 56 service craft, and 242 junks.
Six months later, on October 31, 1972, Norris and fellow Navy SEAL Michael E. Thornton accompanied three South Vietnamese special forces soldiers on an intelligence gathering operation south of the demilitarized zone. They intended to reconnoiter the area around the Cửa Việt Base near the coast of Quảng Trị Province, just south of the Demilitarized Zone.
Michael Edwin Thornton is a retired United States Navy SEAL and recipient of the U.S. military's highest decoration, the Medal of Honor, for his actions in the Vietnam War. He was awarded the medal for saving the life of his senior officer, Lieutenant Thomas R. Norris, who also earned the Medal of Honor in an unrelated incident.
Cửa Việt Base is a former U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, U.S. Army and Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) base north of Quảng Trị in central Vietnam.
Quảng Trị is a province in the North Central Coast region of Vietnam, north of the former imperial capital of Huế.
Approaching by sea, the group was transported by junk until sunset, then paddled a rubber boat to within a mile of shore and swam the remaining distance. Moving inland past numerous North Vietnamese encampments, the group reconnoitered through the night.
When morning dawned, the 5-man group realized that they had landed 5 miles (8.0 km) to the north and were actually in North Vietnam. They soon encountered a two-man North Vietnamese patrol, which the South Vietnamese attempted to capture. Instead, enemy troops were alerted to their position. For the next four hours, the five men held off an enemy force estimated at about 200-300 strong. Norris called in naval firepower on the enemy's positions, helping to keep them alive.
But the North Vietnamese regrouped and surrounded the troops. The SEALs and South Vietnamese decided to withdraw. Norris protected their rear while the others moved towards the water. He was shot in the head and severely wounded. One of the South Vietnamese who saw Norris' wound assumed he was dead. Thornton, upon hearing the news, ran through heavy fire to recover the body of his fallen comrade, only to discover that Norris was still just barely alive. He killed several North Vietnamese as they surmounted the dunes around his position and then carried the unconscious Norris into the water.
Thornton also carried one of the South Vietnamese soldiers who had been wounded and was unable to swim into the ocean. Thornton swam and supported the two injured men for more than two hours before they were picked up by the same junk which had dropped them off the night before. Norris' first surgery lasted 19 hours.
Thornton was recognized with the Medal of Honor for his actions by President Richard Nixon during a ceremony at the White House on October 15, 1973. He snuck Norris out of the hospital in the middle of the night so Norris could attend his Medal of Honor ceremony. Norris was later awarded the Medal of Honor by President Gerald R. Ford in a White House ceremony on March 6, 1976. Thornton thus became the first Medal of Honor recipient recognized for saving the life of another Medal of Honor recipient. Norris lost an eye and part of his skull. He spent three years recovering from his injuries in the hospital and over a six-year period underwent many major surgeries. As a result of the head injury, he was medically retired from the Navy in May 1975.
In 1979, Norris joined the FBI and requested a waiver for his disabilities. FBI director William Webster responded, "If you can pass the same test as anybody else applying for this organization, I will waive your disabilities." In September 1979, Norris passed the test and subsequently served as an FBI agent for 20 years. He was an original member of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team as an assault team leader. He is a member of the Society of Former Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a SEAL Advisor with the Strategic Technical Directorate Assistance Team, Headquarters, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. During the period 10 to 13 April 1972, Lieutenant Norris completed an unprecedented ground rescue of two downed pilots deep within heavily controlled enemy territory in Quang Tri Province. Lieutenant Norris, on the night of 10 April, led a five-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 11 April, after a devastating mortar and rocket attack on the small FOB, Lieutenant Norris led a three 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 Lieutenant Norris. Dressed in fishermen disguises and using a sampan, Lieutenant 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. Lieutenant 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, Lieutenant Norris enhanced the finest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
The Naval Special Warfare Group Two in Little Creek, Virginia is located in the Lt. Thomas R. Norris Building.
Norris' Medal of Honor actions have been re-told in numerous books and in the feature film Bat*21 , which was the call sign for an EB-66C from the 42nd Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (42 TEWS), 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, at Korat, Thailand. The aircraft was shot down while flying pathfinder escort for a cell of three B-52 bombing near the Demilitarized Zone.
Norris received the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award in 2011. He is one of nine Eagle Scouts who also received the Medal of Honor.
Norris' military decorations and awards include the following:
|Special Warfare insignia|
|1st Row||Medal of Honor||Silver Star Medal||Bronze Star Medal w/ Combat "V" and two 3⁄16" Gold Stars||Purple Heart Medal|
|2nd Row||Joint Service Commendation Medal||Navy Commendation Medal w/ Combat "V"||Combat Action Ribbon||Navy Presidential Unit Citation w/ 3⁄16" bronze star|
|3rd Row||Navy Unit Commendation||Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation||National Defense Service Medal||Vietnam Service Medal w/ three 3⁄16" bronze stars|
|4th Row||Vietnam Gallantry Cross w/ Gold Star||Vietnam Armed Forces Honor Medal 2nd class||Vietnam Staff Service Medal 2nd class||Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation (Gallantry Cross) with palm and frame|
|5th Row||Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation (Civil Actions) with palm and frame||Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal w/ 1960- device||Navy Expert Rifleman Medal||Navy Expert Pistol Shot Medal|
|Navy and Marine Corps Parachutist insignia|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Thomas R. Norris .|
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