How did Larry Thorne (Lauri Törni) became a Special Forces legend?
Larry Thorne or Lauri Törni was a war hero who fought under three different flags. Started in his home country Finland, for some time in the SS division of Nazi Germany and finally killed in Laos as a member of the US Army Special Forces.
Lauri Törni (Larry Thorne) in his three military uniforms
His incredible journey as a true warrior began in Finland when he was born in 1919. Lauri Törni joined the Finnish army at the age of 19 and fought in its war against the Soviet Union. The so-called Winter War lasted from 1939 to 1940, according to the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper.
Törni was a dedicated and brave soldier and he quickly rose to captain and took command of a group of ski troops. They became known as a kind of special unit that literally went into battle against enemy forces.
Törni was badly wounded in 1942 while skiing into a mine, but that didn’t stop him. In 1944, during what the Finns called the Continuation War, he received Finland’s highest military award, their version of the Medal of Honor – the Mannerheim Cross – for his bravery in commanding a light infantry battalion.
The Nazi era
Unfortunately for Lauri Törni, his home finally fell to the communists in 1944. But instead of surrendering, he joined the Nazi German SS to continue his fight against the Soviets.
Lauri Törni as an SS officer
He received additional training in Nazi Germany and then looked forward to returning to the battlefield.
But then Germany also fell and the Finn, who became a Waffen SS officer, was arrested by the British, according to War History Online. Even if he was sent to a prison camp, he would not be prevented from doing so.
“In the final phase of the war, he surrendered to the British and eventually returned to Finland after escaping from a British POW camp,” the War History Online report said.
“When he returned, the Finns arrested him despite receiving their Medal of Honor and was sentenced to six years in prison for high treason.”
Lauri Törni only served half of his sentence before he was pardoned by the Finnish President in 1948.
Joined the US Army Special Forces
The path of this extraordinary soldier to the US Army was paved by a crucial law of Congress and the creation of a new military unit: US Army Special Forces.
He was able to join the US Army under the Lodge-Philbin Act of June 1950, which allowed foreigners to join the US military and give them citizenship if they had served honorably for at least five years.
Just two years later, under the Lodge Philbin Act, the Army set up its new special unit at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Here Lauri Törni saw his chance for a new beginning.
More than 200 Eastern Europeans joined the army’s special forces before the law expired in 1959, according to historian Max Boot.
One of them was Lauri Törni, who reported in 1954 under the name Larry Thorne.
Lauri Törni (in the middle) as a Finnish lieutenant
“The Soviets wanted to get their hands on Thorne and forced the Finnish government to arrest him as a German collaborator during the war,” the report on Arlington Cemetery.net said.
“They wanted 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 became a citizen with the help of Wild Bill Donovan. The head of the OSS during the war knew about Thorne’s commando exploits. “
How Larry Thorne became a Special Forces legend
A veteran warrior, Larry Thorne quickly stood out among his fellow Green Berets. Although he enrolled as a private, his wartime skills led him to become an instructor at the Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, where he taught everything from survival to guerrilla tactics.
In 1957 he was made lieutenant and rose to captain as the war in Vietnam was on the horizon.
But first he would take part in a daring rescue mission in Iran. In 1962, according to Helsingin Sanomat, then Captain Larry Thorne led an important mission to recover classified information from a US Air Force plane that crashed on a mountaintop on the Iranian-Turkish-Soviet border. Although three previous attempts to obtain the materials had failed, Thorne’s team succeeded and he was recognized for this mission.
According to the US Army:
Thorne quickly made it into the US special forces and in 1962, as captain, led his division up the highest mountain in Iran to recover the bodies and secret material of a crashed American C-130 plane. It was a mission that others had failed on, but Thorne’s relentless spirit led to its fulfillment.
This mission first established his status as a legend of the US special forces, but it was his deep strategic reconnaissance and interdiction expeditions with the Military Assistance Command, the Vietnam Studies and Observation Group, also known as MACV-SOG that cemented his legendary status.
In Vietnam, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for Heroism, along with five Purple Hearts for battle wounds, writes War History Online. According to Helsingin Sanomat, his wounds allowed him to return from the fight in the back, but he refused and instead asked for command of a special operations base, and for this he lived and died.
On October 18, 1965, Larry Thorne led the first cross-border MACV-SOG mission in Laos to stop North Vietnamese movements on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Using helicopters from the South Vietnamese Air Force, the Thorne team was successfully deployed in a clearing in Laos while Thorne stayed in a chase helicopter to provide assistance when needed. When the team announced it had arrived, he replied that he was returning to base.
About five minutes later, the helicopter crashed in poor visibility and bad weather. The army initially listed Thorne as missing and later stated that he was killed in action – in South Vietnam. The wreckage of the aircraft was found before the war ended and the remains of the South Vietnamese crew were recovered, but Larry Thorne’s body was never found.
Thorne’s exploits in battle made him appear invincible among his Special Forces brothers, and since his body was never restored, many believed he survived the crash and continued to live in hiding or was captured by the North Vietnamese, according to POW Network.
“Many believed that he was exactly the kind of almost indestructible soldier who would simply have come back from the jungle, and they could hardly believe that he had been killed,” writes Helsingin Sanomat.
The mystery of Larry Thorne’s death was finally revealed in 1999 after the remains of the legendary Special Forces soldier were recovered from the crash site. DNA analysis confirmed the identity of the flight crew, while dental records showed that Lauri Törni aka Larry Thorne had died on that fateful night in 1965, Helsingin Sanomat reported.
“He was a complex but driven man who bravely fought three-flag oppression and did not recognize the importance of giving up,” said Sean Swindell, colonel in the US Army Special Forces, during a ceremony in 2010.
The article was originally published on the We Are the Mighty website. Read the original We Are The Mighty article. Copyright 2015.