Sunday, November 11, 2012

Nguyen Van Kiet: Awarded Navy Cross for rescue of LTC Iceal Hambleton (BAT 21)


 
 Petty Officer Third Class Nguyễn Văn Kiệt and Lt. j.g. Thomas R. Norris. Norris was awarded the Medal of Honor and Nguyễn was recognized with the Navy Cross. 
 
They took an abandoned sampan and cautiously searched the river shore for two more hours without success. They reluctantly returned to their forward operating base to rest and hope they would be more successful the next night.[1] Forward air controller Harold Icke on Bilk 11 fixed Hambleton's position during the day so Norris and Nguyen could find him that night.[5]

On the night of 12 April, Norris and Nguyen found a deserted village and clothing which they used to disguise themselves as fishermen.[6] They took advantage of the abandoned sampan to row quietly up the river. Even in the pitch dark and dense fog, they could see large numbers of North Vietnamese soldiers and tanks on the shoreline. Traveling upriver in the sampan, they broke out of the heavy fog and found themselves under the Cam Lo bridge. They had passed Hambleton's position more than 30 minutes ago. Turning around, they finally found Hambleton sitting in a clump of bushes, alive but partly delirious. Sunrise was coming, and although Norris thought it best to wait until dark to return downriver, Hambleton needed to be evacuated immediately. Despite the risk, they hid Hambleton in the bottom of the sampan, covered him with bamboo, and started downriver.[1]

Their sampan was soon spotted by North Vietnamese troops, some of whom fired at them, but Norris and Nguyen could not afford to return fire. They traveled down river and Norris called in air support to eliminate the North Vietnamese shooting at them from the northern bank. They rescued Clark and Hambleton, but Walker was discovered and killed by the NVA before they could return to rescue him.
A book was written about Nguyen's heroism by William Charles Anderson, the book was later adapted into a 1988 movie, Bat*21. In 1999, after the release of considerable classified information, a second book, The Rescue of Bat 21, was published by Darrel D. Whitcomb. Nguyen emigrated to the United States, and, as of 2008, resided in Washington State.


 
   Nguyễn Văn Kiệt on left



Thomas R. Norris in 2008

Six months later, in October 1972, Norris sustained a near-fatal head wound in combat while protecting forces evacuating to his rear. A South Vietnamese soldier saw his severe head injury and left him, believing that Norris was dead. Fellow Navy SEAL Michael E. Thornton, upon hearing the news, went back intending to recover the body of his fallen comrade, only to discover that Norris was still just barely alive. Thornton was recognized with the Medal of Honor for his actions; he was the first person in more than a century to receive the Medal of Honor for saving the life of another Medal of Honor recipient. Norris received the Medal of Honor from President Gerald R. Ford in a White House ceremony on March 6, 1976.

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