The Navy awarded retired Rear Adm. Thomas Richards a Silver Star this week for rescuing three of his fellow Navy SEAL platoon mates during the Vietnam War — an upgrade from the Bronze Star previously awarded for those actions.
Then-Lt. j.g. Richards, who was nicknamed “The Hulk” and could squat and deadlift 500 pounds, and the members of SEAL Team One’s Zulu Platoon were on a mission in a rice paddy Jan. 30, 1971, targeting Viet Cong insurgents who’d fired upon their helicopter.
After Richards and three members of the platoon were injured by enemy fire, Richards hauled all three across a dike through enemy gunfire and into a helicopter for evacuation. His teammates would not have survived if not for his heroism, according to the Navy.
“Thinking back on that day, I never gave any thought to my own personal exposure to enemy fire,” Richards said, according to a Navy news release. " I wanted to get my friends out of danger and to safety.”
Rear Adm. Keith Davids, commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, presented Richards with the Silver Star on Jan. 17 during an awards ceremony at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia.
“Today we were fortunate to attend a very long overdue ceremony to recognize one of Naval Special Warfare’s truest warriors, tribal elders and fantastic teammates,” Naval Special Warfare Force Master Chief Walter S. Dittmar said, according to a Navy news release. “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.”
Although Richards was originally recommended for the Silver Star, he was awarded the Bronze Star instead. But Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro chose to upgrade Richards’ decoration as “a reminder that the courage, grit, and integrity of past NSW teammates forms the standard upheld in the community today,” the Navy said.
“The upgrade to the Silver Star provides recognition of the fact that things went terribly wrong that day in South Vietnam,” Richards said.
“More importantly, it brings attention to the fact that the SEALs and other special operations forces are put in those situations to support our country’s foreign policy in the most dangerous manner,” Richards said. “This Silver Star reminds our country that we have people risking their lives for the democracy we enjoy daily.”
Richards, who is originally from Bay Shore, New York, served in the Navy for 30 years and retired in 1999 after a tour as the commander of Naval Special Warfare Command. Other assignments include serving as executive officer of Underwater Demolition Team 12 and commanding officer of Special Boat Unit 13, SEAL Team One.
The Silver Star is the third-highest combat decoration for valor awarded to service members in the Navy and Marine Corps, just under the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross.