Skip to comments.Medal of Honor recipient shares story in Beach
Posted on 05/19/2010 3:13:54 PM PDT by csvset
By the fall of 1972, the Vietnam War had started to wind down for most U.S. troops. But for Petty Officer Michael Thornton, a 23-year-old Navy SEAL from the hills of South Carolina, it was just starting to heat up.
Launched at dusk in a rubber boat by a Vietnamese junk, Thornton was part of a five-man SEAL patrol assigned to gather intelligence near the North Vietnam border. When day broke and they could find no identifiable landmarks, Thornton turned to the patrol leader, Lt. Tom Norris, and said: "I think we're in the wrong place."
They had been dropped off too far north, in enemy territory.
Then began a larger-than-life episode that ultimately resulted in the bestowing on Thornton of the nation's highest and rarest military decoration: the Medal of Honor.
One of a dwindling band of recipients whose stories are now being recorded for posterity, Thornton stopped Tuesday at The Westin Virginia Beach Town Center - the first of several appearances this week in Hampton Roads - to tell his.
To understand why he did what he did, Thornton said, it is necessary to understand only one thing: the power of camaraderie in the Navy's elite, tight-knit commando units.
"We loved, and we gave, and we understood each other - that's what SEAL teams are about," he said. "We would have given our lives for each other."
The misplaced patrol - Thornton, Norris and three South Vietnamese SEALs - found themselves surrounded by 50 to 75 North Vietnamese soldiers. Over the course of a five-hour firefight, Thornton estimates, the SEALs killed 35 of them.
After suffering shrapnel wounds from a grenade, Thornton fell back to provide covering fire. Then one of his South Vietnamese comrades arrived with devastating news: Norris had been shot in the head and killed.
Thornton charged 500 yards over open terrain to Norris and found that, in fact, he was clinging to life. He slung Norris over his shoulder and ran toward the beach.
The blast from an incoming round from the U.S. cruiser Newport News blew both men into the air. Thornton picked Norris up again and raced toward the ocean. On the way he was shot in the leg.
One of the South Vietnamese SEALs was shot as well. Thornton picked him up, too, and swam into the surf carrying both wounded men as bullets pelted the water. After two hours, the three were picked up by the junk that had dropped them off.
A year later, when Thornton arrived in Washington to receive his medal, Norris was in nearby Bethesda Naval Hospital. Thornton wanted him at the ceremony, but his doctors said no. So Thornton waited until after hours and kidnapped him.
The next day, when President Richard Nixon hung the medal around Thornton's neck, Norris was standing beside him.
"Is there anything I can do for you?" Nixon asked.
"Sir," Thornton replied, "if you could break this medal in half, the other half belongs to the man beside me."
Three years later, Norris received the Medal of Honor in his own right, with Thornton standing at his side. After more than six years of hospitalizations, he recovered from his wounds and today lives in Idaho. Thornton lives in Texas.
They are among 91 Medal of Honor recipients still alive.
As the honorees died off, "we realized we were losing a national treasure," said Holly Crockett, a senior vice president at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney who organized Tuesday's event.
For the past nine years, the brokerage house has partnered with the nonprofit Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation to preserve the veterans' stories in print and video.
Bill Sizemore, (757) 446-2276, firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope Blumenthal reads this and thinks about the difference between himself and this man.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while participating in a daring operation against enemy forces. PO Thornton, as Assistant U.S. Navy Advisor, along with a U.S. Navy lieutenant serving as Senior Advisor, accompanied a 3-man Vietnamese Navy SEAL patrol on an intelligence gathering and prisoner capture operation against an enemy-occupied naval river base. Launched from a Vietnamese Navy junk in a rubber boat, the patrol reached land and was continuing on foot toward its objective when it suddenly came under heavy fire from a numerically superior force. The patrol called in naval gunfire support and then engaged the enemy in a fierce firefight, accounting for many enemy casualties before moving back to the waterline to prevent encirclement. Upon learning that the Senior Advisor had been hit by enemy fire and was was believed to be dead, PO Thornton returned through a hail of fire to the lieutenant's last position; quickly disposed of 2 enemy soldiers about to overrun the position, and succeeded in removing the seriously wounded and unconscious Senior Naval Advisor to the water's edge. He then inflated the lieutenant's lifejacket and towed him seaward for approximately 2 hours until picked up by support craft. By his extraordinary courage and perseverance, PO Thornton was directly responsible for saving the life of his superior officer and enabling the safe extraction of all patrol members, thereby upholding the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
Compare/contrast to the wanna be in CT...
Thank you for posting. Super-heroes don’t wear capes- they usually wear camo.
I had the honor of sitting next to Mike Thornton on a flight to BWI a couple of months ago. You’ll not meet a finer gentleman, nor a more unassuming one. Had I not noticed his lapel pin, I wouldn’t have known that I was next to a real American hero.
Kind of takes a little of the sting of Jesse Jackson being from there. LOL