Greenville native saves man's life in Vietnam, receives Medal of Honor

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A Greenville native is the only man to receive the Medal of Honor for saving the life of another man who was also honored with the medal.

Four men behind enemy lines in Vietnam surrounded by the enemy not five yards away. When their commanding officer was shot in the head, Petty Officer Michael Thornton wouldn't leave him for dead.

The Greenville native enlisted in the Navy shortly after graduating from high school.

He went through underwater demolition recruit training, and became a member of the elite SEALs.

In the fall of 1972, with the US involvement in Vietnam winding down, there were only three officers and nine enlisted SEALs left in Vietnam.

Thornton was one.

That October, Petty Officer Thornton, along with Navy Lieutenant Tom Norris, accompanied a three-man Vietnamese Navy SEAL team on an intelligence gathering patrol.

As they returned to the beach, they were spotted and began to take heavy fire.

More than 50 enemy soldiers attacked, closing to within five yards.

The Vietnamese SEALs told Thornton that Lieutenant Norris had been hit by enemy fire and was believed to be dead.

Thornton then returned through a hail of fire and pulled the wounded and unconscious Norris to the water.

He then inflated the lieutenant's life jacket and swam him out to sea for nearly two hours when they were finally picked up.

Lieutenant Norris snuck out of the hospital to attend Thornton's Medal of Honor ceremony.

Then three years later, when Lieutenant Norris received the honor for saving two pilots shot down in enemy territory, Thornton was in the audience.

Reported by Craig Melvin

Posted by Chantelle Janelle