Michael Edwin Thornton was born in Greenville, South Carolina and raised on the family farm near Spartanburg. Thornton joined the Navy upon graduating from high school in 1967 and completed the rigorous training to join the SEALs, the Navy's elite sea-air-land special operations force. As overall American conventional forces were gradually withdrawn from Vietnam in the early 1970s, the "unconventional warfare" role of Navy SEALs grew. In the spring of 1972, Petty Officer Thornton was assigned to a mission under the command of Lt. Thomas Norris. Thornton and Norris accompanied a three-man South Vietnamese Navy team which included Kiet Nguyen, South Vietnam Navy, LDNN, (Lien Doc Nguoi Nhia, literally "soldiers who fight under the sea") on an intelligence gathering mission in enemy-held territory. Launched from a Vietnamese Navy junk in a rubber boat, the patrol reached land and found themselves farther behind enemy lines than they had planned. Continuing on foot toward their objective, they came under heavy fire from a far larger force and were in danger of being surrounded. While inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy, they headed for the shore, in hopes of escaping by sea. On learning that Lt. Norris had been hit by enemy fire and was believed to be dead, Thornton & Kiet Nguyen returned through a hail of fire to the lieutenant's last position and found him severely wounded and unconscious, but alive. The two other members of the LDNN team refused to go to the aid of Lt. Norris. They were never seen again. When Thornton & Nguyen found Lt. Norris his was alive but unconscious from a severe head wound.
Thornton slung Norris over his shoulder and dashed for life over 400 yards of open beach, returning enemy fire as he ran. He carried Norris and wounded comrade, Kiet Nguyen, out to sea, beyond the range of enemy fire. The three men floated for approximately two hours before being retrieved by the same South Vietnamese Navy junk that had brought them into the operation. Michael Thornton was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on October 15, 1973. He is the first person in more than a century to receive that honor for saving the life of another Medal of Honor recipient. Now retired after a distinguished Navy career that continued through Operation Desert Storm, he resides near Houston, Texas. For his gallantry, Kiet Nguyen, Petty Officer, received the Navy Cross, the second highest Navy honor. He was the only Vietnamese to receive the Navy Cross. Kiet now lives in Southern Louisiana. Their story can be seen on the Military and History Channels.
This is the 3rd and last article in the series on Congressional Medal of Honor Winners. Thank you again to Author Gary Gosnell, Southwest Airlines Pilot (Ret).