Here is a Q&A session with Dick Couch, former Navy SEAL and author of “By Honor Bound: Two Navy SEALs, the Medal of Honor, and a Story of Extraordinary Courage.” I’d also encourage you to read the review I wrote about this excellent book.
SOFREP: How long did it take you to conduct research for this book? You give quite a lot of details on all of the missions, but it seems that after all of this time it would be a difficult task to accomplish.
I’ve known Tommy Norris and Mike Thornton going on 45 years, so a great deal of what they did and how they did it, I knew. However, the writing of this book meant that we had to go back through it step by step to include mission tasking, mission concepts, intelligence, warning orders, preparations, support, etc. etc. My own experience as an operational SEAL in Vietnam simply afforded me a prism through which to view, appreciate, and write about these two amazing warriors. As for the time, it was about a year and a half from signing the contract to publication.
SOFREP: Lately, Navy SEALs have come under some scrutiny for writing books. What is your take on the subject?
Well, first of all, I’ve enjoyed a writing career thanks to the SEALs and other special-operations components. Like the current crop of SEAL authors, I’ve traded on the brand. That said, I think some of the recent books cross the line, especially when the personal stories cross the line that violates the tenet of SEALs as quiet professionals. I also believe that many of these “firsthand accounts” violate the SEAL ethos: “I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions.” In short, they have broken faith with their brother operators still on active duty.
SOFREP: What was the driving factor behind telling their stories in your book?
Mike Thornton and Tommy Norris, their combat actions and their relationship, are a deeply ingrained part of SEAL lore. There have been other authors and filmmakers who have attempted to tell this story, but they never seemed to be able to get it right. This is a tale of unselfishness and timeless valor, and a story of incredible courage. We all knew they were brave and that they went “above and beyond” in keeping with the precepts of the Medal. But it was not until I helped them put the experience into text that I became aware of their extraordinary accomplishments. What each of them did was unbelievable.
SOFREP: How has earning the Medal of Honor changed both men?
Tough question for me. I knew them both before their award and over the years since their award. They’re basically the same guys. But the Medal of Honor does change those so honored, and that goes for Tommy and Mike. They both will admit that it’s (almost) as hard to wear the Medal as to earn the Medal. Both are humbled by it and still awed by the responsibility that goes with being a recipient. Both will tell you they did only what any other SEAL would have done. I disagree. These are two very special men who, when it counted, did what very few others could have done. Neither had to do what they did, but each felt honor-bound to do it.
SOFREP: Did the South Vietnamese LDNN (SEALs) ever get awards for their involvement in saving Tom Norris?
Other than Kiet’s Navy Cross, not that I’m aware of, other than two of the three on the beach recon are now U.S. citizens. The conduct of the one Vietnamese officer, in my opinion, did not merit recognition. The two enlisted Vietnamese SEALs certainly deserved to be recognized for their courage and loyalty. They fought long and well, and were typical of a great many of the Vietnamese LDNN (SEALs) we worked with.
SOFREP: What was the biggest challenge you found with writing this book?
With this book, like no other, I had to get it right. The major issues were never in doubt, but there were a host of details that I had to track down, and people I had to find to get their recollections of events. And these events took place a long time ago. And it meant getting two guys to talk about their role in those events—what were you feeling when such and such happened? Why did you elect to do this instead of that? Tommy is a very quiet and understated person. Mike, while far more outgoing and verbal, could often be reluctant to talk about himself. And I had to sometimes push them to talk about the operational, tactical, and emotional aspects of their combat experience.
“By Honor Bound” goes on sale May 17th. You can order it on Amazon.