Thomas R. Norris

Last updated
Thomas Rolland Norris
Thomas Norris 2008.jpg
Norris in 2008
Nickname(s)Tommy
Born (1944-01-14) January 14, 1944 (age 76)
Jacksonville, Florida, U.S.
Allegiance 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
Awards
Other work FBI Special Agent

Lieutenant Thomas Rolland Norris (born January 14, 1944) is a retired United States Navy SEAL and Distinguished Eagle Scout 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.

Contents

Norris was one of three SEALs to receive the Medal of Honor for actions during the Vietnam War. [1]

Early life

Thomas Norris was born on January 14, 1944 in Jacksonville, Florida. He grew up in Wisconsin and Washington, D.C. As a youth, he was a member of the Boy Scouts of America and attained the rank of Eagle Scout. Following high school, he entered the University of Maryland in 1963, with the intent of pursuing a criminology career with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology with a specialty in Criminology from the University of Maryland in 1967. While at the University of Maryland, in 1965 and 1966, he was an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) wrestling champion. [2] [3]

U.S. Navy

Norris enlisted in the United States Navy when his student deferment from the draft was not extended. [2] 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 considered removing him from the course. [4] 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.

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.

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.

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. [5] [6]

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. [7]

FBI

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 was an FBI Special 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

Citation:

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. [8] DESA ribbon.png

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
Bronze-service-star-3d-vector.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
Bronze-service-star-3d-vector.svg
Bronze-service-star-3d-vector.svg
Bronze-service-star-3d-vector.svg
Vietnam Service Medal ribbon.svg
1 golden star.svg
Vietnamese Gallantry Cross ribbon.svg
Vietnam Armed Forces Honor Medal ribbon-Second Class.svg Vietnam Staff Service Medal ribbon-Second Class.svg 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

Bibliography

See also

Related Research Articles

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

The Air Force Cross is the United States Air Force and United States Space Force's second highest military award for valor in combat. The medal is equivalent to the Army's Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy and Marine Corps' Navy Cross, and the Coast Guard Cross.

<i>Bat*21</i> 1988 film directed by Peter Markle

Bat*21 is a 1988 American war film directed by Peter Markle, and adapted from the book by William C. Anderson, novelist and retired United States Air Force colonel. Set during the Vietnam War, the film is a dramatization based upon the rescue of a U.S. air navigator shot down behind enemy lines in Vietnam. The film stars Gene Hackman and Danny Glover with Jerry Reed, David Marshall Grant, Clayton Rohner, Erich Anderson and Joe Dorsey in supporting roles.

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.

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.

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.

Robert Edward Femoyer United States Air Force Medal of Honor recipient

Robert Edward Femoyer is one of only nine known Eagle Scouts to receive the Medal of Honor; the others are Aquilla J. Dyess, Eugene B. Fluckey, Thomas R. Norris, Arlo L. Olson, Mitchell Paige, Ben L. Salomon, Leo K. Thorsness, and Jay Zeamer, Jr.. He served in the U.S. Army Air Forces and is the only navigator awarded the Medal of Honor.

George Thomas Coker Vietnam-era POW hero and Distinguished Eagle Scout

George Thomas Coker is a retired United States Navy commander who was awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism as a prisoner of war (POW) during the Vietnam War. An Eagle Scout, he is noted for his devotion to scouting.

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.

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 Saint Bonnet le Froid, in southern France when his plane was shot down by anti-aircraft fire. USS Brinkley Bass (DD-887) was named in his honor.

USS <i>Preble</i> (DDG-46)

USS Preble (DLG-15/DDG-46) was a Farragut-class guided missile destroyer in the United States Navy. She was the fifth, of now six ships, named to honor Commodore Edward Preble (1761–1807). Preble was laid down by Bath Iron Works of Bath, Maine on 16 December 1957. She was launched on 23 May 1959, sponsored by Mrs. Ralph E. Wilson. Preble was commissioned at the Boston Naval Shipyard on 9 May 1960, Commander Edward G. Fitz-Patrick in command. She was decommissioned on 15 November 1991 and struck 20 November 1992 to be scrapped.

Michael P. Murphy Naval Special Warfare Operator US Navy Seal

Michael Patrick "Murph" Murphy was a United States Navy SEAL officer who was awarded the U.S. military's highest decoration, the Medal of Honor, for his actions during the War in Afghanistan. He was the first member of the U.S. Navy to receive the award since the Vietnam War. His other posthumous awards include the Silver Star Medal and the Purple Heart.

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.

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.

Harold Dale Meyerkord was a United States Navy officer who received a posthumous Navy Cross for his actions during a battle in which he was killed during the Vietnam War. He was also the namesake of USS Meyerkord (FF-1058).

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.

References

  1. "Virtual Polygraph". SEC-VeriSESAL. Retrieved 2006-07-03.
  2. 1 2 LT Thomas R. Norris Awarded the "Medal Of Honor"
  3. "Alumni Hall of Fame". University of Maryland Alumni Association. Archived from the original on May 9, 2008. Retrieved 2006-07-03.
  4. 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.
  5. Dockery, Kevin (1991). SEALs in Action. New York: HarperCollins. pp. 202–4. ISBN   978-0-380-75886-9.
  6. 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.
  7. "Veteran Tributes". www.veterantributes.org.
  8. Wendell, Bryan (October 24, 2011). "Vietnam War Hero Receives Distinguished Eagle Scout Award". Scouting.