Camaraderie, selflessness: Medal of Honor recipient speaks to Fort Bliss Soldiers
Sgt. Michael Armstrong,
24th Press Camp Headquarters:
One day after Americans remembered the brave servicemembers who took part in D-Day, a group of Fort Bliss Soldiers had the privilege and honor to hear a story of camaraderie from a hero of the Vietnam War June 7 in Soldier Hall at Fort Bliss.
Medal of Honor of recipient and retired Navy SEAL Lt. Michael E. Thornton spoke to the Soldiers of 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command, about camaraderie and selfless service.
A veteran of Vietnam and Desert Storm, Thornton told the Soldiers about his actions on October 31, 1972.
“My team and I were on an intelligence and prisoner capture operation,” said Thornton. “We entered on a rubber boat into enemy territory and went on foot to conduct our operation.”
Thornton went on to describe how his team, consisting of his senior officer, Lt. Thomas Norris and three members of the Vietnamese Navy SEALs, was able to capture an enemy soldier but then came under heavy fire and was vastly outnumbered.
“We made it back to shore, and I was told Tommy was hit and thought to be dead,” Thornton said.
Thornton went to his lieutenant’s last known position, found him seriously wounded and unconscious.
“Tommy was shot in the head and still breathing,” Thornton said. “I grabbed him and made it back to the water.”
Thornton, while shot in the leg himself, managed to get the rest of his team out to sea. Still under enemy fire they were able to hold them off until the team was out of range.
“I inflated Tommy’s life jacket and pulled him out with us until help arrived,” Thornton said.
Thornton said his team was floating for nearly two hours before rescue arrived. Though they were already thought to have been killed in action, the rescue team kept the search going until they were found.
Thornton went on to explain how the camaraderie he had with his team made him able to trust that they had his back and that selfless service led not only for him to rescue his superior officer but also for the rescue team to continue their search for the SEALs floating at sea.
On October 15, 1973, Thornton was presented the Medal of Honor by former President Richard Nixon during a ceremony at the White House. To this day he is still humbled by the award.
“I’m just a custodian of this medal,” Thornton said. “The medal I wear so proudly around my neck belongs to every man and woman who served before me, who served after me, but most of all it belongs to the ones who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“They gave their lives for us to be here,” he added, “for Soldiers to be able to talk to me and for me to be able to talk to these young men and women in uniform.”
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