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Task & Purpose has staff at the Army-Navy game outside Boston this weekend and as we run into distinguished service members and vets in town, we’re asking them 5 questions only veterans would think to ask

One veteran we ran into was former Navy SEAL and Medal of Honor recipient Michael Thornton.

Thornton received the Medal of Honor for saving a fellow SEAL during a firefight in Vietnam and swimming with his injured comrade for two hours. On that mission, Thornton accompanied a three-man Vietnamese Navy SEAL patrol on an intelligence gathering and prisoner capture operation against an enemy occupied naval base. They reached land and were moving on foot until they came under heavy fire and were overpowered and outnumbered. They called in naval gunfire support and engaged in a firefight before moving back to the waterline to prevent being encircled. 

After learning that fellow SEAL Thomas Norris had been hit by enemy fire and was believed to be dead, Thornton moved to where Norris had fallen and killed two enemy soldiers about to overrun his position. Thornton carried Norris to the water’s edge and, swimming alone, towed the wounded SEAL for nearly two hours until they were picked up.

Norris would eventually receive the Medal of Honor himself for his role on a mission from six months before, when he led a behind-the-lines mission to recover two downed aviators.

5 Questions for Michael Thornton, Medal of Honor Recipient

1 – What MRE main meal are you trading away every single time?

I didn’t eat MREs.

How about the C-rations?

I didn’t eat C-rations. I ate the food of the the Vietnamese because when you sweat and stuff like that, the same odor comes out and actually you can smell the difference. So I always ate whatever the Vietnamese were eating.

2 – What’s something you messed up that caused everyone to have to do push ups?

I never messed up. Somebody else messed up. I just did the flutter kicks and the push ups and I was damn good at push ups and flutter kicks.

3 – What is your biggest suggestion for solving the recruiting crisis? 

I think we’re doing all right for recruiting. Everybody says they worry about our nation. We don’t need the draft like I did. 

I came in, actually my father got me in, I was kind of a mischievous young man growing up. Him and Judge Thomas – Judge Thomas was the juvenile delinquent judge – they set it up and said you can make your first decision in this world and it was: make an about face and join one of these fine services. I said, I’ve always wanted to be a Navy frogman. My father told me 15 years later that him and Judge Thomas set the whole thing up.

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4 – As the saying goes, ‘there’s only one thief in the Army, everyone else is just trying to get their stuff back.’ What’s the most interesting thing you ever acquired from another service member or unit?

The Vietnamese base had no beds, no nothing. I call it “Cum Shaw.” [Navy slang of the Vietnam era for ‘unofficial requisition,’ based on a Chinese word]. I don’t call it stealing or anything.

I came back with two trucks full of freezers and steaks and lobster tails and pots and pans and air conditioners and all that kind of stuff. So, I Cum Shawed all that and we had to take a ferry over to where we were on this little island and almost sunk the ferry, I had so much stuff.

5 – Last one: when you’re going on deployment, or a long training exercise, what’s the one creature comfort you’re absolutely making sure you have with you?

I just hope I got back home to my family. That’s a comfort because you never knew. I’ve been wounded 18 times in my lifetime and you don’t know- the next one’s gonna be the one for you or not. With the grace of God, I’m still here and I was able to get back. So many other men and women have never been able to do that. They don’t get to come back and hug their kids and stuff. 

I might be wounded. I’m still able to hug my mom and my dad and my wife and my Children and my grandchildren. You don’t worry about it when you’re in the field because we’re all born to die. So you have to stay focused on the mission. But when you do get the mission done and you come back, that’s the greatest comfort in the world.

Check out another interview we got at the Army-Navy game, 5 question only a veteran would ask Medal of Honor recipient Ryan Pitts.

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