Norman Gaddis was born in 1923 in Dandridge, Tennessee. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on October 29, 1942, and entered the Aviation Cadet Program in July 1943, receiving his commission as a 2d Lt in the U.S. Army Air Forces on November 20, 1944. Gaddis flew P-40 Warhawk and P-51 Mustang fighters in the American Theater and he went into the reserves in October 1945. He was recalled to active duty on February 14, 1949, and served with the 86th Fighter Wing in West Germany until March 1952, flying the P-47 Thunderbolt and and F-84 Thunderjet fighters. Gaddis then transferred to the 31st Fighter Wing at Turner AFB, Georgia, and during this time he participated in the first jet fighter crossing of the Pacific Ocean. General Gaddis next flew F-86 Sabre and F-84F Thunderstreak fighters with the 81st Fighter Wing at RAF Bentwaters, England, and then served at Headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe. In May 1957, he was assigned to the 450th Fighter Wing, where he flew F-100C Super Sabre fighters at Foster AFB, Texas, and then as an instructor at the U.S. Air Force Fighter Weapons School, flying the F-100D and F at Nellis AFB, Nevada. He entered Air Command and Staff College in August 1960 and upon graduation in July 1961, he was assigned to Headquarters U.S. Air Force in the Directorate of Operations as a staff officer in the Tactical Division. In November 1966, General Gaddis began flying combat missions in Vietnam. He was forced to eject over North Vietnam while flying his 73rd combat mission on May 12, 1967. Gaddis spent the next 2,123 days as a Prisoner of War of the North Vietnamese and was released during Operation Homecoming on March 4, 1973. Following hospitalization, he became vice commander of the 82nd Flying Training Wing at Williams AFB, Arizona, in August 1973, and commander in February 1974. He served with Headquarters U.S. Air Force from July 1974 to February 1975, when he became Deputy Director of Operations for the U.S. Air Force. General Gaddis retired from the Air Force on June 1, 1976. He is a command pilot with over 4,300 flying hours in the P-40 Warhawk, P-47 Thunderbolt, P-51 Mustang, F-80 Shooting Star, F-84 Thunderjet, F-86 Sabre, F-100 Super Sabre, F-4 Phantom II, T-33, T-34 Mentor, and T-38 Talon.
His Air Force Distinguished Service Medal Citation reads:
For exceptionally meritorious and distinguished service in a position of great responsibility to the Government of the United States. General Gaddis distinguished himself while a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam from December 1970 to February 1973. During this period, General Gaddis displayed professional competence, unwavering devotion and loyalty to his country in the execution of his duties in staff and command positions while in potentially volatile daily contact with the Vietnamese guards and officers. General Gaddis performed his duties in accord with the Code of Conduct, exhibiting leadership, courage, and determination, regardless of the cost in the many tortures and beatings which he had to endure. The singularly distinctive accomplishments of General Gaddis reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.