In my position, I have the honor of meeting many military and law enforcement men and women whose service to this country always humbles me. Last week, I had the distinct honor of meeting two Congressional Medal of Honor Recipients, an experience I shall never forget.
On May 9, during the FBI LEEDA Conference in San Antonio, both men gave a moving presentation about their perspectives on leadership and the circumstances that led to their receipt of the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration awarded by the government.
Mike Thornton, U.S. Navy Seal (Ret.), discussed how as an Assistant U.S. Navy Advisor, he accompanied a three-man Vietnamese Navy SEAL patrol, along with a U.S. Navy lieutenant serving as Senior Advisor, on an intelligence gathering and prisoner capture operation against an enemy-occupied naval river base.
However, they encountered heavy fire and Thornton was informed that the Senior Advisor had been hit by enemy fire and was believed to be dead. He returned through a hail of fire to the lieutenant’s last position and succeeded in removing the seriously wounded and unconscious Senior Naval Advisor to the water’s edge. He then inflated the lieutenant’s lifejacket and towed him seaward for approximately 2 hours until picked up by support craft. (You can read the complete account here).
As it turns out, Thornton saved the life of fellow Medal of Honor Recipient Tommy Norris, U.S. Navy Seal (Ret.), who was the other speaker at the conference. Norris sustained a near-fatal head wound during the attack. He had been nominated for the Medal of Honor prior to this incident after going more than 2 kilometers behind enemy lines and successfully rescuing two downed American aviators. His actions were dramatized in the movie Bat*21. (You can read more about his story here).
During the event, I had the opportunity to speak at some length with both Norris and Thornton and this is something I shall always consider one of the greatest honors of my life. One of the most moving moments was connecting my service experience while the SEAL’s were conducting missions on the ground and we were flying overhead. Both recalled my aircraft’s call sign while working air support.