U.S. Navy Seal and Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient
Michael E. Thornton, a native of South Carolina, enlisted in the United States Navy in 1967. He entered basic training at the Naval Training Center, San Diego, California.
Subsequently, he was selected for specialized training in Basic Underwater Demolition training in Coronado, California and the Navy’s elite SEAL community.
Upon successful completion of training, he was assigned to SEAL team ONE based in Coronado, California from 1968-1974. During the period of October 1968 to January 1973, he completed several tours of duty in the Republic of Vietnam and Thailand.
During this time, he was the recipient of numerous awards. His most prestigious decoration was bestowed for heroic actions on his last tour of duty in Vietnam which resulted in saving the life of a fellow SEAL. For this action during a reconnaissance and intelligence gathering mission, he received this Nation’s highest award, the CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF HONOR.
From 1974 to 1977 he served as an instructor at the SEAL training command in Coronado, California. In 1977 he transferred to SEAL team TWO in Little Creek, Virginia where he was the senior enlisted (man) in an operational platoon and also served as an instructor for SEAL Basic Indoctrination. In 1978 he deployed to the United Kingdom to serve two years with the Royal Marine British Special Boat Squadron in an exchange billet.
Upon completion of his successful tour with the British, he returned to help establish and operate with SEAL Team SIX. Here he was instrumental in developing new and innovative operational techniques and hardware that formed the foundation for future unique special operations missions.
In June 1982, Lieutenant Thornton received his commission as a United States Navy Ensign. He completed Basic Officer Diving and Salvage Training and immediately thereafter was assigned as the Officer-in-Charge of the Second Class Dive School at the Little Creek Amphibious Base in Norfolk, Virginia. In January 1986, he reported to the USS Edenton (ATS-1) as the First Lieutenant and Diving and Salvage Officer for Combat Support Squadron Eight, at Little Creek. In April 1990, Lieutenant Thornton reported as Bravo Company Commander where he coordinated a rapid response deployment in support of DESERT SHEILD/ DESERT STORM.
Lieutenant Thornton’s personal decorations include:
– The Congressional Medal of Honor
– Silver Star
– (3) Bronze Star Medals with Combat “V”
– Purple Heart
– Meritorious Service Medal
– (3) Navy Commodation Medals with Combat “V”
– Navy Achievement Medal
– The Combat Action Ribbon with Gold Star
– The Vietnamese Service Medal with one Silver Star and
– Two Bronze Stars
– as well as, numerous unit citations
In May 1992, Lieutenant Thornton retired being the last Congressional Medal of Honor recipient serving on active duty in the Navy.
Congressional Medal of Honor Citation
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 in the Republic of Vietnam on October 31 1972. Petty Officer Thornton, an assistant United States Navy advisor, along with a United States Navy lieutenant serving as senior advisor, accompanied a three-man Vietnamese 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, Petty Officer Thornton returned through a hail of fire to the lieutenant’s last position, quickly disposed of two 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 life jacket and towed him seaward for approximately two hours until picked up by support craft. By his extraordinary courage and perseverance, Petty Officer 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 United States Naval Service.