View Full Version : U.S. Larry Thorne, Bronze Star,5 Purple Hearts, Vietnam

10-07-2009, 02:11 PM
In January 1954, a 35-year old recent immigrant from Finland named Larry Thorne enlisted as a private soldier in the Cold-War era US Army. Thorne, some years before had been something of a war hero in two different armies. Under his given name of Lauri Allan Törni the young Finn had served Finland in the hopeless Winter War (1939-40) and later in their Continuation War (1941-1944) against the Soviet Union. He led ski-borne special units behind Soviet lines on raids and ambushes that kept much larger forces off balance. Not wanting to stop fighting when his country surrendered he joined the Nazi German army and continued his war with the Soviets until the end of World War Two in 1945. He was decorated with both the highest German and Finnish Awards and had attained the rank of Captain in both armies. With nothing left for him in Finland, he immigrated to the United States in 1954 with the help of the Lodge Act.

Enlisting as a private his special skills were immediately apparent and he was promoted to sergeant and made an instructor in mountain and arctic warfare at Ft Carson. This led to selection for the infant Special Forces (Green Berets) and promotion to Lieutenant in 1956. He was soon posted to the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) in West Germany. During that time the 10th SFG (A) was something of the US Army's Foreign Legion as it held military men from throughout Warsaw Pact-occupied Western Europe. Their job in case the Cold War turned hot would be to penetrate their former homelands and conduct sabotage, raid key targets and foster resistance operations. In short, he was training for the type of mission that was bread and butter to him in that last war. In 1962, after serving for a number of years in this special force, Thorne was made a Captain for the third time in his career and sent on a sensitive mission to recover classified documents and equipment from an air force C-130 that had crashed into an impassible mountainside in Iran. The mission had previously failed but Thorne's team was successful.

With the Indochinese conflict beginning to boil, now-Captain Thorne was reassigned to the 7th SFG(A) in Vietnam in 1963. Seeing combat from isolated hilltop camps he earned a bronze star for valor as well as five purple hearts for wounds. Transferred to the 5th SFG(A) after his first tour ended he was later seconded to the cloak and dagger Military Assistance Command-Vietnam- Studies and Observation Group, better known by its acronym MACVSOG in 1965. He was part of a project known as “Shining Brass,” which was the deniable infiltration of Laos by reconnaissance teams to scout for North Vietnamese activity. On October 18, 1965 while flying into Laos to recover a team of eight Nung mercenaries in a South Vietnamese Air Force H-34 helicopter, his aircraft impacted a mist shrouded mountaintop. The Army declared him dead in 1966 and posthumously promoted him to Major, the highest rank he ever attained in any army.

In 1999 the bodies of the aircrew were located along with Major Thorne's. He was identified in part by his Swedish "K" gun that was well known to be part of his personal kit. In 2003 he was interned at Arlington National Cemetery. In Finland he is seen as a hero. In the United States he is also remembered. At Fort Carson, where the 10th SFG (A) is now stationed and where Thorne served as an instructor, the main headquarters building is named Thorne Hall. The 1968 John Wayne movie "Green Berets" main character Sven Kornie, was based loosely on Thorne.

10-07-2009, 02:24 PM
Larry Alan Thorne was born on May 28, 1919 and joined the Armed Forces while in Norwalk, Connecticut.

He served in the United States Army, 5th Special Forces. In twelve years of service, he attained the rank of Major.

Thorne was born in Finland in 1919, entered the Finnish army in 1938 and fought in the 1939-40 war against the Soviet Union. He subsequently conducted guerrilla warfare against the Soviet forces after the Finnish regime allied itself with Nazi Germany and reentered the war. As Shultz tells it, "In September 1944, Finland surrendered to the Soviet Union. Thorne didn't. He joined the Germans, attended their school for guerrilla warfare, and then fought with their marines until the war ended.

"The Soviets wanted to get their hands on Thorne and forced the Finnish government to arrest him as a wartime German collaborator. They planned to take him to Moscow to be tried for war crimes. Thorne had other plans. He escaped, made his way to the United States, and with the help of Wild Bill Donovan became a citizen. The wartime head of the OSS knew of Thorne's commando exploits..."

Thorne joined the U.S. Army and his expertise in guerrilla warfare led him into the Special Forces Group, where he was commissioned a first lieutenant, eventually rising to the rank of captain and commanding a Special Forces team in Vietnam, before joining SOG. Name: Larry Alan Thorne
Rank/Branch: Major, United States Army
Unit: Headquarters Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Detachment SD 5891, 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces With orders to Studies and Observation Group Long Thanh, South Vietnam

Larry Alan Thorne was born Lauri Allan Torni in Viipuri, Finland. As a young adult, he enlisted in the Finish Army where he obtained the rank of Captain. During the early years of World War II, he developed, trained and commanded the Finish ski troops. Under his strict and demanding leadership, the ski troops fought the Russians deep behind enemy lines for extended periods of time. During Finland's wars against the former Soviet Union, he was awarded every medal for bravery that Finland could bestow including the Knight of the Mannerheim Cross, which is the equivalent of the American Medal of Honor. After Finland fell to the communists, Captain Torni joined the German SS in order to continue fighting the communists. After World War II, Lauri Torni made his way to the United States where he enlisted in the U.S. Army under the Lodge Bill. After completing basic training, Larry Thorne was selected for the budding Special Forces program. He quickly rose through the ranks, and with the assistance of allies within the military, received a commission. In 1964, Larry Thorne served his first 6-month tour of duty in South Vietnam.

In February 1965, then Captain Larry Thorne returned to Long Thanh, South Vietnam for his second tour of duty. While assigned to Headquarters, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam; Captain Thorne was instrumental in establishing the standard operating procedures employed by the fledgling Studies and Observation Group, better known by its acronym "MACV-SOG." MACV-SOG was a joint service unconventional warfare task force engaged in highly classified operations throughout Southeast Asia. The 5th Special Forces Group channeled personnel into MACV-SOG (although it was not a Special Forces unit) through Special Operations Augmentation (SOA), which provided their "cover" while under secret orders to MACV-SOG. The teams performed deep penetration missions of strategic reconnaissance and interdiction that were called, depending on the location and time frame, "Shining Brass" "Daniel Boone," "Salem House" or "Prairie Fire" missions.

When North Vietnam began to increase its military strength in South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops again intruded on neutral Laos for sanctuary, as the Viet Minh had done during the war with the French some years before. This border road was used by the Communists to transport weapons, supplies and troops from North Vietnam into South Vietnam, and was frequently no more than a path cut through the jungle covered mountains. US forces used all assets available to them to stop this flow of men and supplies from moving south into the war zone.

In September 1965, the infiltration of reconnaissance teams into Laos, Codenamed: "Shining Brass," was approved, but severe limitations by Washington restricted the teams to penetrate no deeper than 50 kilometers into Laos. In case the team was captured the cover story derived for the first Shining Brass mission was that "they were looking for a crashed US Air Force C-123 cargo aircraft that was lost near the South Vietnamese/Lao border." Further, in conjunction with planning cross-border missions, Larry Thorne flew as the observer for many intelligence gathering reconnaissance missions over eastern Laos. Because of this, he was very familiar with the entire area in which MACV-SOG's teams would be operating.

One of the earliest helicopters employed in Southeast Asia, and the primary Marine Corps helicopter used during the early years of the war, was the Sikorsky UH34D Seahorse. This aircraft was already quite old when they arrived in the battle zone. However, both the US and South Vietnamese military found them to be extremely effective throughout the war. The Seahorse was frequently used to insert MACV-SOG teams into Laos.

On 18 October 1965, the first MACV-SOG cross-border mission was to be inserted by South Vietnamese Air Force helicopters into a target area approximately 20 miles northwest of Kham Duc known as "D-1" to locate and report on North Vietnamese activity operating on and near Highway 165. All personnel were initially transported to Kham Doc Forward Operating Base (FOB) in preparation for their launch into Laos in search of what would eventually be known as the "Ho Chi Minh Trail." Master Sergeant Charles "Slats" Petry, team leader; Sergeant First Class Willie Card, 1 South Vietnamese Army Lieutenant and 7 Nungs comprised Recon Team (RT) Iowa, the team to be inserted.

As the men of RT Iowa prepared their weapons and gear, Major Norton and Captain Thorne brought the SVAF Kingbee, US Army Huey and USAF Forward Air Controller (FAC) aircrews together in the operations shack to plan the team's insertion at dusk. RT Iowa's landing zone (LZ) would be a slash-and-burn area that resembled an old logging clear-cut from the Pacific Northwest. U.S. Air Force Major Harley B. Pyles, pilot; and U.S. Marine Corps Captain Winfield W. Sisson, observer and Marine MACV-SOG air liaison officer; comprised the crew of an O1E Bird Dog, call sign "Bird Dog 55," the number 2 aircraft in a flight of two that would coordinate all aircraft involved in inserting RT Iowa. Major Harold Nipper flew the lead Bird Dog. In addition to the FACs, the U.S. Air Force provided a flight of B-57s to conduct a Combat Air Patrol (CAP) for this mission should the ground team run into trouble and greater firepower was needed.

At 1745 hours, both FACs departed Kham Duc. Minutes later Major Pyles transmitted the weather conditions were marginal, with clouds below the mountaintops and increasing ground fog. In spite of the existing conditions, the FAC pilot believed the low flying helicopters could weave around the worst of it and called for the rest of the mission's aircraft to launch. At 1800 hours, the Kingbee helicopters lifted off with Cowboy, piloting the lead SVAF Kingbee; and Mustachio piloting the #2 Kingbee. The third Kingbee was a chase aircraft that would retrieve the crew and passengers of any aircraft that went down. Captain Thorne, who was not about to remain at Kham Duc, was the only passenger aboard the chase aircraft. US Army Huey gunships launched at the same time to provide air cover should it be needed at any time during the mission.

As the Kingbees and Huey gunships flew low over the countryside, all they could see were rolling hills, wild rivers and waterfalls. The weather proved especially hazardous, forcing them to weaving between thunderheads and sunbeams while avoiding sporadic .50 caliber machinegun fire, all of which missed. The flight arrived over the target area just before sundown. The all aircraft circled the area looking for a way to get down to the clearing through the thick angry clouds that blanketed the area. Minutes before Captain Thorne intended to cancel the mission and return to Kham Duc, the clouds opened up slightly allowing the two Kingbees carrying RT Iowa to spiral into the slash-and-burn clearing, rapidly discharge their passengers and immediately climb for altitude. As Larry Thorne's helicopter and Major Pyles' Bird Dog attempted to descend, the clouds again closed up. Captain Thorne ordered the now empty Kingbees to return to Kham Duc. Shortly thereafter, Captain Thorne also released Bird Dog 55 and the Huey gunships to return to base.

As the weather worsened, Larry Thorne continued to orbit D-1 near the landing zone in case RT Iowa ran into trouble. As Cowboy and Mustachio flew toward the east, they reported low-level visibility so bad that they had to climb to 8,500 feet in order to clear the top of the clouds. Once Captain Thorne received a message from RT Iowa that their insertion was successful, he transmitted that his aircraft was also on its way back. At 1810 hours, Major Nipper released the B-57s and began his own return flight to Kham Duc. Approximately 5 minutes after receiving the patrol's report, the other aircrews heard a constant keying of a radio for roughly 30 seconds. After that, only silence was heard in response to repeated attempts to raise anyone aboard the Kingbee.

Intense search efforts were initiated at first light the next morning and continued for the next month, but found not trace of the missing Kingbee, its crew and passenger. Shortly after loss, Larry Thorne was reported as Missing in Action. Prior to his final mission, Larry Thorne had been recommended for promotion to Major and was being groomed for a staff position as an intelligence officer. His posthumous promotion to Major was approved in December 1965.

Early on 19 October 1966, the U.S. Army declared that Captain Larry A. Thorne was no longer being listed as Missing in Action, but had been declared Presumed Killed in Action in South Vietnam, not Laos. The Department of the Army officially stated, "On 18 October 1965, Major Thorne was a passenger aboard a Vietnamese Air Force CH34 helicopter which crashed about 25 miles south of DaNang." Prior to the end of the war, the wreckage of the Kingbee was found and a search and rescue-recovery (SAR) team inserted into the crash site. According to reports, the SAR personnel found and recovered the remains of the South Vietnamese aircrew, but found no sign of Larry Thorne either dead or alive.

The number of MACV-SOG missions conducted with Special Forces reconnaissance teams into Laos and Cambodia was 452 in 1969. It was the most sustained campaign of raiding, sabotage and intelligence gathering waged on foreign soil in US military history. These teams earned a global reputation as one of the most combat effective deep-penetration forces ever raised.


Larry Alan Thorne was born Lauri Allan Torni on May 28, 1919. As an adult in Finland, he joined the Finnish army where he attained the rank of Captain. His valor earned him the equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Mannerheim Medal. He was so successful as a ski troop commander that the unit patch carried his initial "T" with a lightning bolt through it. At the end of the Winter War, Torni joined the German "SS" to fight the Russians. When the Continuation War began, he returned to Finland and again commanded his ski troops.

Following Finland's second defeat to the Russians, Torni was imprisoned by the
communists as a war criminal. He escaped prison three times and made his way to
the United States where he enlisted in the U.S. Army as a private.

In Finland, Lauri Torni is a national hero. In the United Sates, Larry Thorne is forgotten by all but a few. His family believes he is still alive, even considering he was 70 years old this year (1989). Lauri Torni hated the threat of communism so much that he was willing to join any army to fight it. We must never forget men like Thorne. It is to them that we owe our freedom. We also owe them theirs.

Lauri T”rni (1919-1965) was a World War II hero and a recipient of the Mannerheim Cross - the highest award for gallantry on the field - in his native Finland. After the end of hostilities, the fiercely anti-Communist T”rni found life at home difficult, and he emigrated to the United States. There he entered the U.S. military and became a decorated and much-revered Vietnam War hero in Special Forces. T”rni, by now better known to his colleagues as Larry Thorne, disappeared after the helicopter he was in went down close to the Laos border in 1965. At long last, his remains have been formally identified, and he will be laid to rest in the Arlington National Cemetery on June 26 of this year. T”rni's remains will be buried in the same coffin with those of three other victims of the same helicopter crash.

When the crash site was finally located four years ago, the U.S. military made inquiries concerning T”rni's final resting place. In Finland, hopes were raised for the national hero's possible burial in his home country. Separating the remains of the crash victims, however, turned out to be an impossible task, which led to a pragmatic decision to organise a joint burial at Arlington. "A traditional American military officer's burial is to be expected, with trumpets and salutes", says T”rni's nephew Juha Rajala, who is also the Vice President of the Lauri T”rni Tradition Guild in Finland. The Tradition Guild will send representatives to the funeral, and the Finnish Defence Forces will decide on their participation next week. It is likely that the representation from the U.S. Army will be at the level of a General. T”rni still enjoys an awesome reputation amongst military men even today, nearly 40 years after his demise. The Arlington National Cemetery is in Virginia, across the Potomac River from the nation's capital, Washington DC. Arlington Cemetery contains about 270,000 graves, most of them belonging to individuals who served in the U.S. armed forces. Arlington's most famous grave, accompanied by an eternal flame, is that of President John F. Kennedy. The day before the interment, a memorial service will be arranged. Larry A. Thorne, the name by which T”rni is remembered in the United States, was a captain and a Green Beret in the U.S. Special Forces. Special Forces will also organise a tribute to their hero. After T”rni's status was changed from "missing in action" to "presumably killed in action", a memorial service was already organised in Helsinki back in 1967.

Excavation at the crash site in Vietnam was launched four years ago. The helicopter crashed on a mountain-top in a severe thuderstorm. Three South Vietnamese soldiers had accompanied T”rni on the ill-fated helicopter flight, returning from a secret mission, probably in Laos. Two of the South Vietnamese lieutenants were identified from DNA samples. The third soldier, a machine-gunner, was recognised from his identification tag. T”rni's fate was finally confirmed, not by a DNA sample, but from his dental records. T”rni had a dental crown on his tooth number 18.

Even before the medical confirmation, two pieces of evidence pointed strongly to the final outcome: the serial number found on the helicopter's rotor blade and the Swedish-made machine pistol that T”rni had taken with him, which was found nearby. The Lauri T”rni Tradition Guild has planned a trip to Vietnam, to the site of their hero's death. Thirty of the Finnish Army infantrymen who accompanied T”rni on numerous dangerous missions in World War II are still alive, among them Finland's former President Mauno Koivisto. Next year Lauri T”rni would have celebrated his 85th birthday.

More on this subject:
One Burial, Four Fighters

There's a story behind almost every funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, but a group burial at the cemetery earlier this summer was particularly uncommon.

A single casket bearing the remains of four men killed in a helicopter crash during the Vietnam War was buried June 26 with military honors. Three of those laid to rest were South Vietnamese Air Force crew members. The fourth was a Finnish war hero from World War II who later became a legendary U.S. Special Forces officer, portrayed on film by John Wayne.

The story begins with the Winter War, which began with the Soviet invasion of Finland in 1939, when Lauri Torni fought against attacking Red Army troops. During World War II, Torni trained with the Waffen SS in Germany and fought alongside Finnish and German guerrillas against the Soviets. He was a recipient of the Mannerheim Cross, Finland's highest award for gallantry in the field.

Torni found life in Finland difficult after the war and moved to the United States, enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1954 and later gaining citizenship. With the new name of Larry Thorne, he became an officer in the Green Berets, of the Army's elite Special Forces, serving in operations in Iran and Vietnam, according to an article last year in Military Review, an Army publication.

On his second tour in Vietnam in 1965, assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group, Thorne was involved in the secret war in Laos. On October 18, 1965, he was on a covert mission into Laos, riding in a South Vietnamese Air Force H-34 helicopter. In thick clouds near the Laotian border, the helicopter crashed into a mountaintop. Also on board were three South Vietnamese crew members: Lieutenant Bao Tung Nguyen, First Lieutenant The Long Phan and Sergeant Vam Lanh Bui.

Searches of the rugged terrain found nothing. Thorne was declared killed in action by the Army in 1966. In America, posthumous fame arrived when he was portrayed by Wayne in the 1968 film "The Green Berets."

A joint U.S.-Socialist Republic of Vietnam team found the wreckage in 1997, and the site was excavated in 1999. The remains were subsequently identified by the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii.

The three Vietnamese service members were eligible for burial at Arlington because their remains were commingled with those of an American serviceman, according to a spokeswoman for Arlington Cemetery.

Now the three lie together with Thorne in America's most hallowed ground, a unique ending to a unique story.

10-07-2009, 02:27 PM
Sorry it's a bit jumbled but I wanted to get all of his info in here as it's pretty unique .

10-07-2009, 03:27 PM
Lauri törni US Army
28.1.1954 PVT-1
28.5.1954 PVT-2
20.12.1954 PFC
28.4.1955 CPL
17.11.1955 SGT
9.1.1957 1st LTN
30.11.1960 CPT

posthumously promoted to Major, 16.12.1965

U.S. Army Decorations:

The Legion of merit
The distinguished Flying Cross
The Purple Heart x2
The Bronze Star
The Army Commendation Medal

10-07-2009, 03:28 PM
Thanks bobdina for posting!

10-07-2009, 07:40 PM
Thank you for asking for it. I would love to do more member requested hero's instead of me making the decision on my own . Bob

02-16-2010, 04:39 PM
Great man, tough and brave soldier.

02-16-2010, 04:45 PM
Great man, brave and tough soldier. Born in the Finland too.