BY HONOR BOUND: TWO NAVY SEALS, THE MEDAL OF HONOR, AND A STORY OF EXTRAORDINARY COURAGE
By Tom Norris and Mike Thornton with Dick Couch
St. Martin’s Press, $26.99, 288 pages
That U.S. Navy SEALs are extraordinary men is a given. They are extraordinarily trained, extraordinarily skilled, and extraordinarily tough and extraordinarily brave.
Yet even among these extraordinary men, certain SEALs have gone above and beyond the special operations teams’ extraordinary attributes and their actions have made them legends in the SEAL community and in military history.
Tom Norris and Mike Thornton are two such men.
During the Vietnam War SEAL Lt. Tom Norris placed his own life in jeopardy when he rescued two American airmen shot down behind North Vietnamese enemy lines. For this action in April of 1972, Lt. Norris received the Medal of Honor.
Six months later, SEAL Petty Officer Mike Thornton waded into heavy enemy fire and rescued Lt. Norris, who had been severely wounded with a bullet wound to his left eye. For this action, Petty Officer Thornton received the Medal of Honor.
In “By Honor Bound: Two Navy SEALs, the Medal of Honor, and a Story of Extraordinary Courage,” Mike Thornton and Tom Norris, along with author, Vietnam veteran and former Navy SEAL Dick Couch, tell their incredible story.
“It is deeply ingrained in our military culture that we leave no one behind. At great risk and against all odds, we will do anything and everything to save a fallen buddy or a captured comrade,’ writes Mr. Couch in his introduction to the book. “Within the Navy SEALs teams, it is a sacred covenant. From day one in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, those aspiring to join this elite band of warriors are taught that you never, but never, leave a man behind.”
Mr. Couch went on to note that in the SEAL teams and the other special operations components, it is axiomatic that a brother warrior is never abandoned. Mr. Couch also explains that the Medal of Honor is America’s highest military decoration and it is reserved for those who at great personal risk go above and beyond the call of duty.
“It is no wonder that a great many of those who receive the Medal of Honor have earned this distinction because they went to the aid of another in peril,” Mr. Couch writes. “They went back.”
That’s what “By Honor Bound” is all about: two Navy SEALs who went back. One for a fellow SEAL, and one for a brother warrior he had never met.
Mr. Couch, the author of several nonfiction books on Navy SEALs and other special operations groups, as well as four fine military thrillers featuring SEALs, helps the two Medal of Honor winners tell their two stories of heroic action and military operations in a well-written and fast-paced narrative.
In 1972 Lt. Norris performed an unprecedented ground rescue of two downed pilots deep within enemy territory. He led a five-man patrol that located one of the downed pilots. The following day, he led a three-man team on two unsuccessful rescue attempts for the second pilot. But on the third day, dressed in fishermen disguises and using a sampan, Lt. Norris and a Vietnamese sailor found the injured pilot. On the return to their base they came under heavy machine gunfire. This action was dramatized in the film “Bat*21.”
Six months later, Petty Officer Thornton, along with Lt. Norris and a 3-man Vietnamese Navy SEAL patrol, went on an intelligence gathering and prisoner capture operation against an enemy naval river base. They came under heavy fire from a superior force. When Petty Officer Thornton learned that Lt. Norris had been hit and thought to be dead, he returned through heavy gunfire and picked up the wounded and unconscious officer and took him to the water. He towed him out to sea where they floated for two hours before they were picked up.
The book also tells us what happened to Mr. Norris and Mr. Thornton after the war. Mr. Thornton became a commissioned officer, a founding member of SEAL Team Six and a Navy salvage diver before he retired from the Navy. Mr. Norris went on to have several operations connected to his combat injuries. He later became an FBI special agent, having received a waiver for his disabilities. He served as an FBI special agent for 20 years and was an original member of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team.
“By Honor Bound” is also a fine account of Navy SEAL training and combat operations during the Vietnam War. The book is suspenseful, action-packed and reads like a military thriller, but the incredible stories are true.
• Paul Davis, a Navy veteran who served on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War, is a writer who covers crime, espionage, terrorism and the military.