Tom Norris was born on January 14, 1944, in Jacksonville, Florida. He graduated from the University of Maryland in 1967, and enlisted in the Naval Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Navy on September 27, 1967, but was forced to leave the program due to problems with his eyesight. He was commissioned an Ensign in the U.S. Navy on January 3, 1968, and completed Underwater Demolition Team Basic training with Class 45 (East Coast) at NAB Little Creek, Virginia, in 1969. His first assignment was with SEAL Team TWO at NAB Little Creek, and he deployed to Vietnam with the Rung Sat Special Zone River Patrol Group in 1969 and 1970. He again deployed to Vietnam in 1971, where he was assigned to the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam - Studies and Observations Group (renamed Strategic Technical Directorate Assistance Team 158 on May 1, 1972). While serving with this clandestine group he participated in the rescue of Bat 21, an Air Force EB-66 that was shot down with only one survivor, in April 1972, for which he would later be awarded the Medal of Honor. He received a near-fatal gun shot wound to the head on October 31, 1972, and was sent back to the United States for treatment in November 1972. After recuperating from his injuries, LT Norris was medically retired from the Navy on May 1, 1975. He joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1979, and was an original member of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) when it was created in 1982. Tom retired from the FBI in 1999.
His Medal of Honor Citation reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a SEAL Advisor with the Strategic Technical Directorate Assistance Team, Headquarters, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. During the period 10 to 13 April 1972, Lieutenant Norris completed an unprecedented ground rescue of two downed pilots deep within heavily controlled enemy territory in Quang Tri Province. Lieutenant Norris, on the night of 10 April, led a five-man patrol through 2,000 meters of heavily controlled enemy territory, located one of the downed pilots at daybreak, and returned to the Forward Operating Base (FOB). On 11 April, after a devastating mortar and rocket attack on the small FOB, Lieutenant Norris led a three-man team on two unsuccessful rescue attempts for the second pilot. On the afternoon of the 12th, a Forward Air Controller located the pilot and notified Lieutenant Norris. Dressed in fishermen disguises and using a sampan, Lieutenant Norris and one Vietnamese traveled throughout that night and found the injured pilot at dawn. Covering the pilot with bamboo and vegetation, they began the return journey, successfully evading a North Vietnamese patrol. Approaching the FOB, they came under heavy machine gun fire. Lieutenant Norris called in an air strike which provided suppression fire and a smoke screen, allowing the rescue party to reach the FOB. By his outstanding display of decisive leadership, undaunted courage, and selfless dedication in the face of extreme danger, Lieutenant Norris enhanced the finest traditions of the United States Naval Service.