Medal of Honor recipient Lt. Thomas Norris
In Vietnam, in April 1972, a surveillance aircraft went down deep in enemy territory where over thirty thousand NVA (North Vietnamese Army) were preparing for an Easter offensive. Only one crew member survived. This precipitated the most expensive rescue attempt of the Vietnam War, with fourteen people killed, eight aircraft downed, two rescuers captured, and two more rescuers stranded in enemy territory. Navy SEAL LT. Thomas Norris led a daring rescue effort to retrieve downed American airmen in Quanq Tri Province, South Vietnam.
“Our mission was to swim up the river, and contact one of the pilots. Mark Clark said he could get to the river , and float down it. We went into an area where we could intercept him. In doing that we came across numerous enemy positions. We were working in and out of enemy units all night long. We finally got to an area where we could watch out for him. At the time that he was coming down the river which was in the middle of the night. I could hear him coming, he was breathing hard. We also had a NVA ( North Vietnamese Army ) patrol coming right to the location we were sitting at the same time Clark is coming down the river. I’m sitting there praying that Mark’s breathing wouldn’t alert them. They ended up passing right through us “
LT. Norris unsuccessfully attempted to locate Mark in the water. The next morning he found Mark, and the SEALs made their way back to the FOB ( Forward Operating Base ). The NVA retaliated with a rocket attack on the FOB, killing two of the Vietnamese SEALs and others. Norris and his three remaining Vietnamese SEALs failed in an attempt to rescue the second pilot. Because of the impossibility of the situation, two of the Vietnamese SEALs wouldn’t volunteer for another rescue attempt.
Norris decided to take Vietnamese SEAL Nguyen Van Kiet to make another attempt and failed. “I told him i was going after this guy, and Kiet said if you go i go. I said ok i’m not either one of us is coming back. You know whats out there” On April 12, about ten days after the plane had been shot down, Norris got a report of the pilot’s location. He and Kiet disguised themselves as fishermen and paddled their sampan upriver into the foggy night. They located the pilot at dawn on the riverbank hidden under vegetation, helped him into their sampan, and covered him with bamboo and banana leaves. A group of enemy soldiers on land spotted them but couldn’t get through the thick jungle as fast as Norris and his partner could paddle on the water.
When the trio arrived near the FOB, an NVA patrol noticed and poured heavy machine gun fire down on them. Norris called in an air strike to keep the enemy’s heads down and a smoke screen to blind them. Norris and Kiet took the pilot into the FOB, where Norris gave him first aid until he could be evacuated.
“After i was wounded on a mission six months later i was back in the United States. The Navy Seal Teams asked me to do a write up on what happened so they could recommend it for the Medal of Honor action. I didn’t agree with that at the time. I didn't feel like it was qualified for that type of mission. They said listen where going to submit it whether you give it to us or not. Will you please give us a write up, so i did. I’m just a custodian of this medal. I wear it for those out there that deserved it when they were recognized, and the folks that gave their lives for the missions they were sent on and will never be back again” . Lt. Thomas Norris is the only Medal of Honor recipient to be rescued by another recipient of the award during an incident that took place six months later. Nguyen Van Kiet was awarded the Navy Cross.