I had the privilege of reading the book “By Honor Bound: Two Navy SEALs, the Medal of Honor, and a Story of Extraordinary Courage.” The author, Dick Couch, a former Navy SEAL and CIA case officer, brings to life the story of his two friends and former Navy SEALs, Tom Norris and Mike Thornton. Both men were very different, yet cut from the same “never quit” Navy SEAL cloth. One man was from the West Coast and the other from the East Coast, and both were very different in size and personality. Both men earned the Medal of Honor on separate operations for putting their lives on the line for someone else. However, due to the circumstances surrounding events in 1972, their lives will forever be intertwined.
In April of 1972, after multiple failed patrols to rescue two American airmen after they were shot down over North Vietnam, Tom Norris successfully rescued them against all odds—fighting against both time and enemy forces. He knew that the downed airmen were too weak to even walk out of the jungle, yet insisted on going to rescue them. It seemed impossible to move men behind enemy lines under those conditions. For his courageous actions and heroism shown during the rescue of Bat 21, he received the Medal of Honor. When the author asked Tom how he was physically and mentally capable of carrying out the rescues with no sleep, day after day behind enemy lines, he responded, “Dick, that’s why we went through Hell Week. You were there. You know. You can go for days without sleep if you have to.”
Following the rescue of the airmen, Tom Norris and Mike Thornton found themselves together in the same unit for the first time as advisors for the South Vietnamese SEALs. After being handpicked for the role, Tom selected Mike to be the second and only other American SEAL in a Vietnamese-led reconnaissance mission. Upon reaching their objective—a North Vietnamese base—they began to engage with the North Vietnamese troops guarding the base. Soon, North Vietnamese reinforcements began filling the ranks, and began to overrun the small recon team. Tom started walking-in high-explosive rounds by calling the USS Morton on his radio.
After telling the USS Morton, “Fire for effect,” Tom’s memory of the engagement goes blank. He suffered a gunshot wound to the head. The bullet went in through his left eye and exited out of the left side of his head. After fighting for over approximately two hours, Mike Thornton was told that Tom was dead. Instead of falling back to a more defensible position during the bombardment from the USS Morton, he refused to leave his fellow SEAL behind and went to retrieve his body. Mike recovered Tom and realized he was still alive. A portion of his skull was missing, and brain was exposed and protruding through the large hole.
Under heavy enemy fire and indirect fire from the USS Morton, the team began to fall back to the water in order to reach their boats. Finally picked up by the skippers of their boats, they were in the water for over three hours. Mike saved his friend and fellow teammate. He could have made a more logical decision to fall back, but he didn’t. His heroic and courageous actions earned him the Medal of Honor. This is the first time someone has earned the Medal of Honor for saving another Medal of Honor recipient’s life.
Without Dick Couch bridging the two stories together, this book wouldn’t be possible. Both men fought during the same engagement, yet both had very different versions of what occurred that day. As one was calling in fire support, the other was engaged in an active firefight. The interviews of those that supported the mission and the aftermath helped piece this one-of-a-kind story together.
This book can appeal to so many different groups of readers, as it has quite a bit to offer, both historically and inspirationally. This would also be a great book for junior military leaders learning squad- or team-level tactics. It is rare to find a new book written about Vietnam-era Navy SEALS or multiple Medal of Honor recipients.
You can pre-order “By Honor Bound: Two Navy SEALs, the Medal of Honor, and a Story of Extraordinary Courage” on Amazon.