Thomas R. Norris

Last updated
Thomas Rolland Norris
Thomas Norris 2008.jpg
Norris in 2008
Born (1944-01-14) January 14, 1944 (age 75)
Jacksonville, Florida, U.S.
Allegiance Flag of the United States.svg United States of America
Service/branch United States Department of the Navy Seal.svg United States Navy
Years of service19671975
Rank US-O3 insignia.svg Lieutenant
Unit United States Navy Special Warfare insignia.png U.S. Navy SEALs
Battles/wars Vietnam War
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.

Medal of Honor United States of Americas highest military honor

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. [1]

Vietnam War 1955–1975 conflict in Vietnam

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.

Early life

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. [2]

Jacksonville, Florida Largest city in Florida

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.

Boy Scouts of America Scouting organization in the United States

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 (Boy Scouts of America) Boy Scoutings highest award

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.

U.S. Navy

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. [3] 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.

United States Navy SEAL selection and training Selection and training procedures and criteria

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.

Ground rescue operation

Lt. Thomas R. Norris and Petty Officer Third Class Nguyen Van Kiet went behind enemy lines disguised as fishermen in a sampan to rescue Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton. Norris was awarded the Medal of Honor and Nguyen was recognized with the Navy Cross for their actions. Lt. Norris with Nguyen Van Kiet.gif
Lt. Thomas R. Norris and Petty Officer Third Class Nguyen Van Kiet went behind enemy lines disguised as fishermen in a sampan to rescue Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton. Norris was awarded the Medal of Honor and Nguyen was recognized with the Navy Cross for their actions.

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 Hambleton Recipient of the Purple Heart medal

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 12 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 Military personnel recovery from battlefield and enemy occupied areas

Combat search and rescue (CSAR) are search and rescue operations that are carried out during war that are within or near combat zones.

Republic of Vietnam Navy former naval branch of the South Vietnamese military

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.

Intelligence gathering mission

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 E. Thornton United States Navy Medal of Honor recipient

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 Province Province in North Central Coast, 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. [4] [5]

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. [6]


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.

Medal of Honor citation

Moh right.gif


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.

Honors and recognitions

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. [7]

Military awards

Norris' military decorations and awards include the following:

United States Navy Special Warfare insignia.png
Medal of Honor ribbon.svg Silver Star ribbon.svg
"V" device, gold.svg
1 golden star.svg
1 golden star.svg
Bronze Star ribbon.svg
Purple Heart ribbon.svg
Joint Service Commendation ribbon.svg
"V" device, gold.svg
Navy and Marine Corps Commendation ribbon.svg
Combat Action Ribbon.svg
United States Navy Presidential Unit Citation ribbon.svg
Navy Unit Commendation ribbon.svg Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation ribbon.svg National Defense Service Medal ribbon.svg
Vietnam Service Medal ribbon.svg
1 golden star.svg
Vietnamese Gallantry Cross ribbon.svg
VAFHM Class 2.png VSSM Class 2.png Vietnam gallantry cross unit award-3d.svg
VNCivilActionsRibbon-2.svg Vietnam Campaign Medal ribbon with 60- clasp.svg United States Navy Rifle Marksmanship Ribbon with expert device.svg United States Navy Pistol Marksmanship Ribbon with expert device.svg
United States Navy Parachutist Badge.png
Special Warfare insignia
1st Row Medal of Honor Silver Star Medal Bronze Star Medal w/ Combat "V" and two 316" 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/ 316" bronze star
3rd Row Navy Unit Commendation Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation National Defense Service Medal Vietnam Service Medal w/ three 316" 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


See also

Related Research Articles

Air Force Cross (United States) United States Air Force decoration

The Air Force Cross is the second highest military award that can be given to a member of the United States Air Force. The Air Force Cross is the Air Force decoration equivalent to the Distinguished Service Cross (Army), the Navy Cross, and the Coast Guard Cross.

Clyde Everett Lassen, a native of Fort Myers, Florida, was a Commander in the United States Navy and a Naval Aviator. As a Lieutenant, he received the Medal of Honor for his rescue of two downed Naval Aviators while piloting a search and rescue helicopter in Vietnam.

Nguyễn Văn Kiệt was a Petty Officer Third Class in the Republic of Vietnam Navy, one of only two South Vietnamese and the only South Vietnamese Navy member, to be awarded the Navy Cross for actions during the Vietnam War.

Harvey C. Barnum Jr. Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipient

Harvey Curtiss Barnum Jr. is a former United States Marine Corps officer who received the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War. He was the fourth Marine to receive the medal for actions in Vietnam. He retired from the Marine Corps in 1989 after more than 27 years of service. Barnum served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Reserve Affairs from July 23, 2001 to January 20, 2009. He also served as Acting Assistant Secretary of the Navy from January 21, 2009 to April 30, 2009.

John P. Bobo United States Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipient

John Paul Bobo was a United States Marine Corps second lieutenant who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for heroism during the Vietnam War on March 30, 1967.

Kenneth A. Walsh United States Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipient

Kenneth Ambrose Walsh was a United States Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and a Medal of Honor recipient who was the fourth ranking fighter ace in World War II with a record of 21 enemy planes destroyed. He also served in Korea during the first year of the Korean War and retired from the Marine Corps in February 1962.

Stephen W. Pless United States Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipient

Stephen Wesley Pless was a major in the United States Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. He earned the Medal of Honor as a UH-1 Iroquois "Huey" helicopter pilot for rescuing soldiers trapped by heavy enemy fire.

Dick Couch is an American author, professor, and former U.S. Navy SEAL.

Harry Brinkley Bass United States Navy pilot

Harry Brinkley "Brink" Bass was a U.S. Navy pilot who was twice awarded the Navy Cross for his heroic actions in the Pacific theater during World War II. Bass died over Vanosc, in southern France when his plane was shot down by anti-aircraft fire. USS Brinkley Bass (DD-887) was named in his honor.

Robert L. Howard United States Army Medal of Honor recipient

Robert Lewis Howard was a highly decorated United States Army Special Forces officer and Medal of Honor recipient of the Vietnam War.

Thomas G. Kelley United States Navy Medal of Honor recipient

Thomas Gunning Kelley is a retired captain in the United States Navy who received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Vietnam War. From 2003 to 2011 he served as Secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Veterans' Services. He currently serves as the President of the Medal of Honor Society.

Brian Thacker United States Army Medal of Honor recipient

Brian Miles Thacker is a former United States Army officer and a recipient of the United States military's highest decoration—the Medal of Honor—for his actions in the Vietnam War.

Loren Douglas Hagen was a United States Army Special Forces officer and a recipient of the United States military's highest decoration—the Medal of Honor—for his actions during the Vietnam War as Recon Team (RT) leader of a small special reconnaissance unit "RT Kansas", manned by USASF Green Berets and highly trained Montagnard commandos from Task Force One Advisory Element aka Command & Control North, a division of Studies and Observations Group in the Vietnam War. Hagen was the last member of the U.S. Army to earn a Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War.

William E. Hall United States Navy Medal of Honor recipient

William Edward Hall was a United States Naval Reserve officer and a recipient of the United States military's highest decoration—the Medal of Honor—for his actions during the Battle of the Coral Sea in World War II.

Phil H. Bucklew American football player and coach, basketball player, college athletics administrator, United States Navy officer

Phil Hinkle Bucklew was a professional American football player who went on to become a United States Navy officer. He served in one of the Navy's first special warfare units during World War II. While serving in the European Theater, he was twice awarded the Navy Cross, the second highest decoration in the United States Military.

Rescue of Bat 21 Bravo

The rescue of Bat 21 Bravo, the call sign for Iceal "Gene" Hambleton, a navigator aboard an EB-66 aircraft shot down behind North Vietnamese lines, was the "largest, longest, and most complex search-and-rescue" operation during the Vietnam War. Five additional aircraft were shot down during rescue attempts, directly resulting in the deaths of 11 airmen, the capture of two others, and another airman trying to evade capture.

Britt K. Slabinski

Britt Kelly Slabinski is a retired United States Navy SEAL who was awarded the Medal of Honor on May 24, 2018 for his actions during the Battle of Takur Ghar.


  1. "Virtual Polygraph". SEC-VeriSESAL. Retrieved 2006-07-03.
  2. "Alumni Hall of Fame". University of Maryland Alumni Association. Archived from the original on May 9, 2008. Retrieved 2006-07-03.
  3. Couch, D (2001). The Warrior Elite: The forging of SEAL Class 228. ISBN   0-609-60710-3. Referred to in Couch's speech at graduation of BUD/S Class 228. Couch was in BUD/S Class 45 with Norris.
  4. Dockery, Kevin (1991). SEALs in Action. New York: HarperCollins. pp. 202–4. ISBN   978-0-380-75886-9.
  5. Collier, Peter (2006). Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty. New York: Workman Publishing Company. p. 258. ISBN   978-1-57965-314-9.
  6. "Veteran Tributes".
  7. Wendell, Bryan (October 24, 2011). "Vietnam War Hero Receives Distinguished Eagle Scout Award". Scouting.