Part of a five man team consisting of SEAL Lt. Thomas Norris and three South Vietnamese Special Forces, the group was spotted by 50 N. Vietnamese soldiers. An intensive 5 hour battle ensued, accounting for many enemy causalities. Thornton was wounded in the calf and was sent ahead to the beach, while Lt. Norris provided cover and called in for support from a Navy cruiser.
Lt. Norris was hit by enemy fire and was believed to be dead. Petty Officer Thornton ran across 500 yards of open beach, through heavy fire, back to his Lieutenant’s last position determined not to leave his Lt. behind. Thornton found the unconscious Lt., whose position was about to be overrun by two enemy soldiers. He eliminated the enemy. Upon returning to the beach, carrying the seriously injured Norris, Thornton was thrown 20 feet in the air from a US Navy cruiser’s 8 inch round targeting the enemy. Thornton recovered Norris and made it back to water’s edge through heavy enemy fire.
Thornton inflated his own lifejacket, put it on Norris and towed him seaward. When one of the S. Vietnamese Special Forces was wounded, Thornton took hold of him, as well. He swam with the two injured men for more than 2 hours before being picked up by a support craft.
SEAL Petty Officer Michael Thornton received the Medal of Honor for his extraordinary bravery and perseverance resulting in saving the life of his senior officer and enabling the extraction of all patrol members.
He is also the only recipient in over a century to save the life of another Medal of Honor recipient, SEAL Lt. Thomas Norris
The painting now hangs in the National Navy SEAL Museum.