“Courage is the one word that most accurately describes Tom Norris. His entire life has been a lesson in valor.” That’s the opening statement for the National Wrestling Hall of Fame’s official bio for the recipient of its 2014 Medal of Courage award, Thomas J. Norris.
Norris was an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) wrestling champion for the University of Maryland in 1965 and 1966. A sociology major with a minor in criminology, he dreamed of a career with the FBI, but as the Vietnam War intensified, he decided to join the Navy.
Shortly after graduating college, he earned an officer’s commission and joined the SEALs. As described in the citation accompanying his Congressional Medal of Honor, Lieutenant Norris completed an unprecedented ground rescue of two downed pilots in two separate missions in Vietnam.
“By his outstanding display of decisive leadership, undaunted courage, and selfless dedication in the face of extreme danger, Lieutenant Norris enhanced the finest tradition of the U.S. Naval Services.”
But that is not the end of Norris’s heroics. Six months later, while protecting forces evacuating to his rear, Norris suffered a devastating head wound and was left for dead. A fellow Navy SEAL went to recover the body and discovered that Norris was still alive, earning his own Medal of Honor for the rescue.
After numerous surgeries, years of recovery, and the adjustment to life with only one eye, Norris had not given up on his dream of becoming an FBI agent. In spite of his physical challenges, he was able to pass the same tests required of every other aspiring agents and served as an FBI special agent for 20 years.
About the photos: On the left, Tom Norris as a University of Maryland wrestler, from the 1966 Terrapin yearbook. On the right, Norris’ portrait supplied by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.