b. 23/03/1949 Greenville, South Carolina.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 31/10/1972 Qua Viet Naval Base, Vietnam.
Born on March 23, 1949, in Greenville, South Carolina, Thornton graduated from high school in 1967 and enlisted in the United States Navy later that year in Spartanburg. He served aboard destroyers as a gunner's mate apprentice until November 1968, when he attended Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Training at Coronado, California. He was among only 16 students who graduated from class 49 in 1969 which started with 129 members. Upon graduation, he was assigned directly to SEAL Team ONE and began a series of combat tours in southeast asia which ran from 1969 to December 1972. He conducted intelligence gathering operations all over Vietnam. By the last quarter of 1972, U.S. involvement in the region had waned and Thornton, by then a Petty Officer, was one of only a dozen SEALs remaining in Vietnam.
On October 31 of that year, he participated in a mission to capture prisoners and gather intelligence from the Qua Viet Naval Base near the coast of Qung Tr Province, just south of the Demilitarized Zone. In addition to Thornton, the mission team consisted of SEAL Lieutenant Thomas R. Norris, and three experienced Vietnamese men Thornton had worked with before, members of the LDNN, the South Vietnamese Special Forces. The group was transported by junk until sunset, then paddled a rubber boat to within a mile of shore and swam the remaining distance. Moving inland past numerous North Vietnamese encampments, the group reconnoitered through the night.
For these actions, Thornton was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Richard Nixon during a ceremony at the White House on October 15, 1973. The man Thornton rescued, Thomas Norris, survived his wounds and was awarded the Medal of Honor from President Gerald R. Ford in a White House ceremony on March 6, 1976 for his April 1972 rescue of Lt Col Iceal Hambleton and 1stLt Mark Clark from behind enemy lines.
From 1974 to 1977, Thornton served as a BUD/S instructor at NAB Coronado, California and in 1978 was selected to serve two years with the British Royal Marines' Special Boat Squadron (SBS) in an exchange billet. In Fall 1980, Thornton was chosen by Commander Richard Marcinko to be a founding member of SEAL Team Six, the U.S. Navy's first unit dedicated to counter-terrorism. Thornton later became a commissioned officer in June 1982 and retired as a Lieutenant in 1992. He currently sits on the board of advisors for Veterans Direct.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while participating in a daring operation against enemy forces. PO Thornton, as Assistant U.S. Navy Advisor, along with a U.S. Navy lieutenant serving as Senior Advisor, accompanied a 3-man Vietnamese Navy SEAL patrol on an intelligence gathering and prisoner capture operation against an enemy-occupied naval river base. Launched from a Vietnamese Navy junk in a rubber boat, the patrol reached land and was continuing on foot toward its objective when it suddenly came under heavy fire from a numerically superior force. The patrol called in naval gunfire support and then engaged the enemy in a fierce firefight, accounting for many enemy casualties before moving back to the waterline to prevent encirclement. Upon learning that the Senior Advisor had been hit by enemy fire and was believed to be dead, PO Thornton returned through a hail of fire to the lieutenant's last position; quickly disposed of 2 enemy soldiers about to overrun the 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. By his extraordinary courage and perseverance, PO Thornton was directly responsible for saving the life of his superior officer and enabling the safe extraction of all patrol members, thereby upholding the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
NO IMAGE AVAILABLE