Robert Howard’s Medal of Honor and the Birth of the SEALs

In W. Thomas Smith, Jr.‘s latest article in his “This Week in American Military History” series at Human Events today, Smith writes about the late Colonel Robert Howard’s actions that earned the Medal of Honor in Dec. 30-31, 1968. Amazingly, Howard had been nominated for the nation’s highest decoration twice before within the last year.

U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Beret) Sergeant First Class Robert L. Howard is operating deep in the South Vietnamese backcountry (some sources say Cambodia) when suddenly his 40-man hatchet platoon is attacked by a force of some 250 North Vietnamese soldiers.

As the attack unfolds, Howard and his lieutenant are struck by an exploding claymore. Howard is knocked unconscious. He comes to, but with blood in his eyes, he initially believes he has been blinded. Momentarily he can see, but he quickly realizes his body is riddled with shrapnel, his weapon is destroyed, and the enemy is all around him.

Howard manages to toss a grenade at an enemy soldier who is burning the bodies of Howard’s dead comrades with a flamethrower. Howard then crawls under heavy fire to his wounded lieutenant, and drags the officer toward a position of relative safety. Howard survives a second blast when his lieutenant’s ammunition pouch is struck and detonates. Despite his shredded hands, Howard manages to shoot several enemy soldiers with a pistol. He is then shot in the foot and no longer able to walk. Nevertheless, he organizes what’s left of the platoon into a defensive position, then crawls from one man to the next, tending to the wounded and dying, shouting encouragement to the living and fighting, and directing airstrikes on the attacking enemy. Though surrounded, Howard successfully repels attack-after-attack, saves his platoon, and ultimately receives the Medal of Honor.

Retired as a colonel in 1992, Howard is the only soldier to be nominated three times for the Medal of Honor for three separate actions over a period of just over a year.

Unfortunately, Col. Howard passed away last month. He was a great man – the 70 year-old found time to visit U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany, Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere this past year. I was looking forward to meeting him in the upcoming Medal of Honor convention in South Carolina this September.

Also Smith writes that SEAL Teams One (Coronado, Calif.) and Two (Little Creek, Va.) were established on Jan.1, 1962 to the horror of Communists and evil-doers worldwide.

[Originally published at Blackfive]

Tommy Norris interview

tho0-004aThe Pritzker Military Library hosted Medal of Honor recipient Thomas R. Norris earlier this year.

In the video, Norris tells his story of his Naval Special Warfare training and his daring rescue of American pilots behind enemy lines in Vietnam. The video and podcast are available here.

In addition, Ben Stein, the writer and economist, graduated in the same high school class as Norris, and recently wrote a very heartfelt piece at The American Spectator honoring his friend.

Now, many people say America is finished, that it does not have the spirit that it once had, that its best days are behind. I beg to differ, and I offer as Exhibit A, my childhood friend and classmate and neighbor in North Idaho, Tom Norris, a man of total fearlessness and total modesty, Blair class of 1962. If our school had produced him and not one other person, it would still be a place of honor.

Posted on October 31, 2009 at 15:29 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Military History · Tagged with: , , , ,

Michael Thornton appearing in Chicago

Michael Thornton

Michael Thornton

Medal of Honor recipient Michael Thornton will be appearing at the Pritzker Military Library in Chicago on November 19.

Thornton appeared along with fellow SEAL and Medal of Honor recipient Tom Norris (who pulled off one of the military’s most daring rescues, and whose life Thornton saved in 1972) appeared together at a similar event in 2006. Video and audio of the 2006 event are available from the library’s site, which I highly recommend that everyone watch.

Military Milestones from Humphrey’s Solo to Thornton’s Swim

In his “This Week in American Military History” series at Human Events this week, W. Thomas Smith Jr. mentions the anniversary of Navy SEAL Michael Thornton’s amazing battle with the North Vietnamese Army:

Oct. 31, 1972: U.S. Navy SEAL Petty Officer (future lieutenant) Michael E. Thornton; his commanding officer, Lt. Thomas R. Norris; and three South Vietnamese Naval commandos are conducting an intelligence-collection and prisoner-snatch operation deep behind enemy lines when they are discovered by a force that outnumbers them at least 10 to one.

Fierce, close fighting ensues. Thornton and Norris are both wounded, Norris badly.

As the team begins a fighting withdrawal toward the beach, Thornton learns that Norris is down, perhaps dead.

Thornton races back through a hailstorm of enemy fire to find and retrieve his commander — dead or alive.

Thornton finds Norris, kills two enemy soldiers who are standing over his wounded commander, then hoists Norris onto his shoulders and sprints back toward the beach for several hundred yards under heavy enemy fire.

When he hits the surf, Thornton ties Norris to his own body and starts swimming. When he sees one of the South Vietnamese commandos shot in the hip and unable to swim, Thornton grabs him too; swimming both men out to sea for more than two hours before they are rescued.

For his actions, Thornton will receive the Medal of Honor.

Norris will survive and receive the Medal himself for a previous action.

I did a radio show on Mike Thornton in January, and the transcript is available here.

The remainder of the article can be found at Human Events or by clicking below.

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Hall of Heroes: Mike Thornton

This is a transcript of the Unto the Breach program. Click here for the audio.

tho0-005

Mike Thornton

Today’s Hall of Heroes is a special one: Today we feature South Carolina native Mike Thornton. Thornton served several tours with the Navy SEALs during the Vietnam War. Thornton’s tale goes to who you what the people who serve our country are capable of.

By the fall of 1972, the U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia was winding down, and there were only three officers and nine enlisted SEALs left in Vietnam. The 23-year old Petty Officer Mike Thornton was one. The SEALs’ primary missions were rescuing downed American airmen and doing “sneak and peek” reconnaissance on the North Vietnamese Army’s advance into the south.

On October 31, a five-man SEAL patrol was ordered to conduct an intelligence gathering and prisoner capturing operation at the NVA-held Cua Viet River Base. The patrol was made up of three LDNN (South Vietnamese SEALs), Lieutenant Tom Norris, and Petty Officer Thornton. Both Thornton and Norris were experienced combat veterans. Just six months before, LT Norris had led an operation to rescue a pair of U.S. airmen who had been shot down in enemy territory, an action for which he would be awarded the Medal of Honor.

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