Courage is the one word that most accurately describes Tom Norris. His entire life has been a lesson in valor.
Norris was an Atlantic Coast Conference wrestling champion for the University of Maryland in 1965 and 1966. A sociology major with a minor in criminology, he dreamed of a career with the FBI, but as the Vietnam War intensified, he decided to join the Navy. Shortly after graduating college, he earned an officer’s commission and joined the SEALs.
As summarized in the citation accompanying his Congressional Medal of Honor, Lieutenant Norris completed an unprecedented ground rescue of two downed pilots. He 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).
Two days later, after two unsuccessful rescue attempts, a forward air controller located the second pilot and notified Norris. Disguised as fishermen in a sampan, Norris and a Vietnamese sea commando 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. As they approached the FOB under heavy fire, Norris called in an air strike, allowing the rescue party to reach the base.
“By his outstanding display of decisive leadership, undaunted courage, and selfless dedication in the face of extreme danger, Lieutenant Norris enhanced the finest tradition of the U.S. Naval Services.”
But that is not the end of Norris’s heroics. Six months later, while protecting forces evacuating to his rear, Norris suffered a devastating head wound and was left for dead. A fellow Navy SEAL went to recover the body and discovered that Norris was still alive, earning his own Medal of Honor for the rescue.
After numerous surgeries, years of recovery, and the adjustment to life with only one eye, Norris had not given up on his dream of becoming an FBI agent. In spite of his disabilities, he was able to pass the same tests required of every other aspiring agents and served as an FBI special agent for 20 years.