As you are reading this, the high school I attended, Montgomery Blair, in Silver Spring, Maryland, is having its 75th anniversary celebration. We are honoring some famous grads, including Goldie Hawn, the actress, Connie Chung, the TV journalist, Carl Bernstein, famous investigative reporter, Sonny Jackson, ace baseball player, and several others. The one who counts is named Tom Norris.
He was in my class, class of ’62. He was a likable kid and a cross-country runner and wrestler. After the University of Maryland, he joined the Navy and became one of the first of the super-elite Navy Seals.
In April of 1972, he was sent into the midst of 30,000 North Vietnamese soldiers who were invading South Vietnam along with five South Vietnamese soldiers. He survived behind enemy lines for a week seeking to rescue a downed American flyer. Somehow, he found the man, badly wounded, and got him out while engaged in a constant, nonstop firefight with the enemy. Disguised as a local, in a sampan, he got the pilot to safety.
A few months later, in another action behind enemy lines, Tom was shot in the face and was barely able to escape to a nearby Navy vessel, thanks to the heroism of another Seal named Michael Thornton.
Tom was in surgery for years. He lost vision in one eye. In 1976, he received the nation’s highest honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor, for his first mission. Mike Thornton received the same medal for his action saving Tom. This makes Tom the only living American to be involved in two Medal of Honor actions. THE ONLY ONE.
When he got out of the Navy, with vision in only one eye, Tom joined the FBI and worked undercover against domestic terrorist units, especially the Aryan Nations in my beloved North Idaho. Thanks to his cool heroism, the Aryan Nations are pretty much gone from North Idaho. Recently on a late summer night, Tom and I sat by Lake Pendoreille and he talked of his deeds the way a man might talk about washing his car, with that little bravado.
Now, many people say America is finished, that it does not have the spirit that it once had, that its best days are behind. I beg to differ, and I offer as Exhibit A, my childhood friend and classmate and neighbor in North Idaho, Tom Norris, a man of total fearlessness and total modesty, Blair class of 1962. If our school had produced him and not one other person, it would still be a place of honor.