Thomas R. Norris

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Thomas Rolland Norris
Thomas Norris 2008.jpg
Norris in 2008
Nickname Tommy
Born (1944-01-14) January 14, 1944 (age 69)
Jacksonville, Florida
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch United States Department of the Navy Seal.svg United States Navy
Years of service 1967 - 1972
Rank Lieutenant
Unit SEAL Team 2
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, 1972 – April 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.

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

Biography[edit source | edit]

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] 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] He graduated from BUD/S Class 45.

Ground rescue operation[edit source | edit]

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. 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, 1stLt. Mark Clark (the son of World war II General Mark W. Clark), and 1stLt. Bruce Walker from behind enemy lines. Assisted by Vietnamese Sea Commando forces, he and VNN Chief Petty Officer Nguyen Van Kiet went more than 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) behind enemy lines and successfully rescued two of the downed American aviators. Walker was discovered and killed by the NVA. Though he at first rejected the honor, he was recognized with the Medal of Honor in 1975. His actions were dramatized in the movie Bat*21.

Six months later, in October 1972, Norris sustained a near-fatal head wound in combat while protecting forces evacuating to his rear. A South Vietnamese soldier saw his severe head injury and left him, believing that Norris was dead. Fellow Navy SEAL Michael E. Thornton, upon hearing the news, went back intending to recover the body of his fallen comrade, only to discover that Norris was still just barely alive. Thornton was recognized with the Medal of Honor for his actions; he was the first person in more than a century to receive the Medal of Honor for saving the life of another Medal of Honor recipient. Norris received the Medal of Honor from President Gerald R. Ford in a White House ceremony on March 6, 1976.

Tom Norris lost an eye and part of his skull during the combat in which he was rescued by Michael Thornton. As a result of the head injury, he retired from the Navy. He then spent three years recovering from his injuries in the hospital and over a six-year period underwent many major surgeries. 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[edit source | edit]

A light blue neck ribbon with a gold star shaped medallion hanging from it. The ribbon is similar in shape to a bowtie with 13 white stars in the center of the ribbon.
Navy Medal of Honor


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[edit source | edit]

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.[4]

Norris' military awards include the following:

US Navy SEALs insignia.png
A light blue ribbon with five white five pointed stars
Gold star
Gold star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Gold star
United States Navy Parachutist Badge.png
Special Warfare insignia
1st Row Medal of Honor Silver Star Bronze Star w/ valor device and 2 stars Joint Service Commendation Medal
2nd Row Navy Commendation Medal w/ valor device Purple Heart Medal Combat Action Ribbon Navy Presidential Unit Citation w/1 service star
3rd Row Navy Unit Commendation Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation National Defense Service Medal Vietnam Service Medal w/ 3 service stars
4th Row Vietnam Gallantry Cross w/ 1 gold star Vietnam Armed Forces Honor Medal 2nd class Vietnam Staff Service Medal 2nd class Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation
5th Row Vietnam Civil Actions Unit Citation Vietnam Campaign Medal Navy Expert Rifleman Medal Navy Expert Pistol Shot Medal
Marine Corps Parachutist badge

See also[edit source | edit]

Notes[edit source | edit]

  1. ^ "Virtual Polygraph". SEC-VeriSESAL. Retrieved 2006-07-03. 
  2. ^ "Alumni Hall of Fame". University of Maryland Alumni Association. Archived from the original|archiveurl= requires |url= (help) 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. ^ Wendell, Bryan (October 24, 2011). "Vietnam War Hero Receives Distinguished Eagle Scout Award". Scouting. 

References[edit source | edit]