Retired Navy SEAL Has Vietnam Bronze Star Upgraded to A Silver Star

Fifty-two years ago, Thomas Richards was a Navy Lt.j.g. serving with then SEAL Team One’s Zulu Platoon. His nickname was “The Hulk” because he was known to be able to squat 500 lbs of iron. Richards’s Zulu Platoon was targeting enemy insurgents who had previously fired on a helicopter. They were in rice paddy country, open, wet, with dikes and very little cover, except for those dikes and maybe an occasional tree line. As they attempted to seek out the enemy, they came under withering small-arms and machine-gun fire. That day, January 30, 1971, was one of those unfortunate days when things went terribly wrong.

Richard and three others in his platoon were injured almost immediately. Though he was wounded himself, he found the strength and the courage to drag each of his three wounded friends up and over a dike under heavy and direct enemy fire and to a waiting medevac helicopter. In doing so, he saved those three men’s lives. He was recommended for the Silver Star for his valor on that day in Vietnam but was awarded a Bronze Star instead.

Photo: Defense Visual Information Distribution Service

This past January 17, 2023, the now-retired Rear Adm. had his Bronze Star upgraded to the Silver Star, the third highest decoration for valor in combat, under the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross. The ceremony took place at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia Beach, VA.

The Navy Times reported the event, indicating that the Silver Star was presented to the now retired Rear Adm. Thomas Richards by the current commander of the Navy Special Warfare Command, Rear Adm. Keith Davids. In awarding the upgraded medal, Davids said of Richards: “Today we are fortunate to attend a very long overdue ceremony to recognize one of Naval Special Warfare’s truest warriors, tribal elders, and fantastic teammates. His humility was absolutely evident in the fact that he still recognizes and defers to all the brothers who were around him for why he is alive today.”

Photo: Wikipedia/U.S. Navy

For his part, Richards told the Navy Times, that, “Thinking back on that day, I never gave any thought to my own personal exposure to enemy fire. I wanted to get my friends out of danger and to safety.”

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro chose to upgrade the decoration to a Silver Star as “a reminder that the courage, grit, and integrity of past NSW teammates form the standard upheld in the community today.”

Special Warfare operators, whether they are Navy SEAL or those units that are well-known from the Marine Corps, the Army, and the Air Force, are the ones who are often called upon to participate in and to conduct the most dangerous missions to support our country’s foreign policies. They are trained differently and are of a character that is uncommon, even to the military services. Not every sailor can become, for example, a SEAL Team member. Rear Adm. Thomas Richards was one of them.

Photo: Flickr/@USArmy

Rear Admiral Richards served the Navy and the country for 30 years. He retired in 1999 as the then-commander of the Navy Special Warfare Command. Some of the positions he held precious to that command were: The Executive Officer of Underwater Demolition Team 12, the precursor to the SEALs, the Special Boat Unit 13, and, as seen above, SEAL Team One.

We are happy to see that Rear Adm. Thomas Richards’s Bronze Star medal for valor back in Vietnam 52 years ago has been upgraded to the Silver Star. We honor his courage and dedication to his teammates, the United States Navy and to the United States of America. Bravo Zulu, Rear Admiral. Hooyah!

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