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First Name: Thomas

Last Name: Norris

Birthplace: Jacksonville, FL, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Navy (present)


Middle Name: Rolland

Date of Birth: 14 January 1944

Rank or Rate: Lieutenant

Years Served: 1967 - 1972
Thomas Rolland Norris

•  Vietnam War (1960 - 1973)


Thomas Rolland Norris
Lieutenant, U.S. Navy
Medal of Honor Recipient
Vietnam War

Lieutenant Thomas Rolland Norris is a retired U.S. Navy officer and 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 10-13 April 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.

Thomas Rolland Norris was born on 14 January 1944 in Jacksonville, FL. 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. He hoped to join the Navy and fly jets, but 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. He graduated from BUD/S Class 45.

Ground Rescue Operation

In April 1972, Norris was one of the few remaining SEALs in Vietnam. When LtCol 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 LtCol 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 ARVN Chief Petty Officer Nguyen Van Kiet went more than 1.2 miles 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.

Six months later, in October 1972, Norris sustained a near-fatal head wound in combat while protecting forces evacuating to his rear. He was rescued by fellow Navy SEAL Michael E. Thornton. 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 and Thornton received the Medal of Honor at the same ceremony from President Gerald R. Ford in a White House ceremony on 6 March 1976.

Medal of Honor

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.

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 renowned Hostage Rescue Team as an assault team leader.

Medals and Awards

Medal of Honor
Silver Star Medal
Bronze Star Medal with 3 Gold Stars
Purple Heart
Navy and Marine Corps Combat Action Ribbon
National Defense Service Medal
Vietnam Service Medal with Bronze Star
Vietnam Campaign Medal
Special Warfare Insignia


The Naval Special Warfare Group Two in Little Creek, VA, 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 a 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.

Honoree ID: 1041   Created by: MHOH




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