Valor Friday

| April 30, 2021

Larry Thorne

Would you believe that there was a man who served in the Nazi German Waffen SS as an officer that later went on to serve in the US Army? No just serve, he was commissioned an officer. Perhaps even more incredible, he would join the elite Green Berets and fight in Vietnam. All of this was after he’d served in his native Finland’s Army. To say the life and exploits of Larry Thorne are unbelievable is to put it mildly.

Thorne was born Lauri Allan Törni in Finland in 1919. His father a ship captain, Törni had two younger sisters. An athletic boy, he joined the White Guard (the Finnish civil militia) and then in 1938 joined the regular Army. His enlistment was extended in 1939 when the Soviets invaded, starting the Winter War (part of World War II).

Seeing success in combat against his communist enemies, Törni was selected in 1940 for officer training, subsequently commissioned a lieutenant. The wars had made strange bedfellows, as the Nazis and Finnish hated the communist Soviets. As a result of this, Törni’s officer training was conducted by the Waffen-SS in Vienna.

During the anti-communist Continuation War in Finland (fought by Finnish partisans with and alongside Nazi German forces against the Soviets) from 1941 to 1944 Törni saw great military success in conducting commando-style operations.

Törni was so successful that he even received command of a new formation. Known as “Detachment Törni”, they penetrated deep behind enemy lines, earning a reputation on both sides of the fight. The Soviets had such a distaste for the man that they offered a three million Finnish mark bounty on his head. This translates roughly to about three-quarters of a million in today’s US dollars.

During the Continuation War, Törni rose to the rank of captain and earned the Mannerheim Cross. The Mannerheim Cross was Finland’s highest award for combat bravery during World War II. Only awarded during that war, only 197 awards were made to 191 recipients. Törni also received the German Iron Cross 2nd Class.

In September 1944 the Moscow Armistice between Finland and the Soviet Union required the Finnish government to remove the German Army from their territory and demobilize most of their army, including Törni.

In January 1945 Törni was recruited by a German-aligned resistance group. Travelling to Germany for saboteur training, the war had other plans. His training was cut short in March as the Allies encircled Germany. He was also left with no transport back home. What’s a communist-hating soldier to do? Why, enlist with the Germans of course!

As a captain with the Waffen-SS, Törni fought with the Germans against the Soviets at Schwerin, Germany. The war for Germany ended just weeks later, and Törni surrendered to the British to avoid falling into Soviet hands.

In June 1945, Törni escaped the British POW camp and returned to Finland. On arrival there, he was placed under arrest for having joined the Wehrmacht. He escaped and was arrested a second time shortly thereafter.

Törni was tried for treason, convicted, and sent to prison for six years. Escaping his first prison, he was recaptured and sent to a tougher prison. He was given a presidential pardon in 1948 after serving nearly two years of his sentence.

Törni left Finland, travelling to Sweden where he was sheltered with other former Finnish officers. He made his way to Venezuela, where he met with other exiled Finns. He hired onto a Swedish ship headed to the United States. While in the Gulf of Mexico, he literally jumped ship and swam to shore near Mobile, Alabama.

Considered a political refugee, Törni found his way to New York City where he worked as a carpenter in the Finnish-American community. In 1953 an act of Congress gave him a residence permit. In 1954, Törni enlisted in the US Army under the Lodge-Philbin Act. He enlisted and lived the rest of his life under the name Larry Alan Thorne, an Americanization of his birth name.

The Lodge-Philbin Act allowed the US military to recruit foreign nationals (specifically eastern Europeans) to combat the Soviet Union. While enacted for nearly a decade, only a couple of hundred men partook of the program, since the Eisenhower Administration didn’t want to actively recruit overseas. After serving for five years, those enlisted under Lodge-Philbin would receive American citizenship.

Once in the Army Thorne was befriended by some Finnish-American Army officers who encouraged him to join the nascent Army Special Forces. Once earning his Green Beret, he taught survival training, skiing, and guerrilla tactics. Rising to the rank of sergeant, he was again selected for officer training. He was sent to officer candidate school shortly after getting his American citizenship in 1957.

Promoted to captain in 1960, Thorne served in Germany with the 10th Special Forces Group from 1958 until 1962. From 1963, Thorne was in South Vietnam serving with Special Forces Detachment A-734, which were supporting South Vietnamese military operations. Once again, for the third time in his life he was fighting against communism.

During a fierce battle at Tinh Biên, Thorne and all of his men were wounded. Present with Thorne and the other Special Forces soldiers was author Robin Moore. Moore, a civilian, had gone through a year’s worth of Special Forces training to be embedded with the soldiers in Vietnam for the purposes of writing a book on them.

During the battle, the highly experienced Thorne directed his men to mine their own machine gun positions. This unique strategy helped hold off the vastly numerically superior enemy. Thorne knew that his positions would eventually be overrun and the mines took out many enemy men when that happened.

The book Moore wrote was The Green Berets. The story in the book is presented as fiction, but that’s only because the battle at Tinh Biên was considered classified. The book’s character Captain Steve Kornie is based on Thorne.

In the 1968 movie adaptation, the character of Captain Kornie was rewritten for John Wayne and made a colonel (mostly due to Wayne’s age). The real-life Thorne has been called “John Wayne-esque” for his life of incredible exploits.

In 1965, Thorne started his second tour in Vietnam. He was assigned to the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG), the classified special operations unit advising South Vietnamese military and militia forces on fighting the North Vietnamese and Viet-Cong.

On 18 October 1965 Thorne was in a South Vietnamese Air Force CH-34 that launched from Kham Duc Special Forces Camp with a second CH-43. Thorne was in command of the operation, which was to find Viet-Cong turnaround points along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. His Special Forces team was in the other CH-34 helicopter. While enroute to the their objective, the two helicopters met up with a US Army O-1 Bird Dog forward air control aircraft.

At their objective, 25 miles from Da Nang, inclimate weather prevented them from seeing the ground. Thorne’s command helicopter and the Bird Dog remained to loiter over the landing zone while the other CH-34 inserted its team.

When the CH-34 returned above the clouds, both Thorne’s helicopter and the Bird Dog observation plane were nowhere to be found. Rescue crews were dispatched, but the crash sites were never found. They were eventually discovered in 1999, with the remains of Thorne and the three South Vietnamese Air Force men were repatriated to the United States. Positively identified in 2003, the four men were laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.

At the time of his death Thorne was survived only by his fiance. She had later married but was present at his interment.

While in the United States Army, Thorne earned a posthumous Legion of Merit, a posthumous Distinguished Flying Cross, a Bronze Star w/ “V” for valor, and two Purple Hearts. Shortly after his disappearance he was promoted to major.

The three uniforms of Larry Thorne

Thorne had risen from the ranks of conscript in the Finnish militia to captain, served as an officer in the Third Reich for a time, and then became an American Green Beret, rising there once again from the rank of private to major.

Category: Army, Historical, Real Soldiers, Valor, Vietnam, We Remember

Comments (27)

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  1. ninja says:

    Wow, Mason…What a great story!

    Thank You so much again for sharing!

    If one goes to this site, one can see additional photos of Major Thorne as well as his Naturalization paper:

    https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/14327543/larry-alan-thorne

    And this site at the POWNETWORK:

    https://www.pownetwork.org/bios/t/t375.htm

    Rest In Peace, Soldier. Salute.

    Never Forget.

    • Claw says:

      Side Note: The nicknames given to the two ARVN CH-34 King Bee pilots were “Cowboy” and “Mustachio”.

      RIP and Hand Salute to all.

  2. Mustang Major says:

    The Swedish heavy metal band Sabaton wrote a song about Lauri Törni, “Soldier of Three Armies.” If you haven’t heard of them, Sabaton’s songs focus on military themes. You can find a lot of their music on YouTube.

    https://www.sabaton.net/discography/heroes/soldier-of-3-armies/

    youtube video:

  3. STSC(SW/SS) says:

    The Man
    The Myth
    The Legend
    Commie Hater Extraordinaire

    RIP Sir

  4. USAF Ret says:

    Would you believe:

    That there was a German teenager, Hitler Youth, who manned a machine gun against the Americans entering Berlin?

    He later joined the US Air Force became a Pararescueman and retired as a CMSgt.

    More later, but I am leaving for a couple of days where there is no internet. Yes, there is still such places

  5. 26Limabeans says:

    Wow. Just wow.

    I assume the helo and Bird Dog collided?

  6. What a story. First time I’ve heard about it.

  7. FuzeVT says:

    I think I looked him up when I saw the Sabaton song. Only Waffen SS veteran to be interned in Arlington.

  8. President Elect Toxic Deplorable Racist SAH Neanderthal B Woodman Domestic Violent Extremist SuperStraight says:

    That such men walked the Earth
    CLANK! CLANK!

    Reminds me of that meme on Rafal Gan-Ganowicz:
    Q: “How does it feel to take a human life.”
    A: “I wouldn’t know. I’ve only ever killed Communists.”

  9. rgr769 says:

    Even in 1972, there were still a few DP’s (displaced persons aka refugees) from WWII in the ranks in the 10th SFG(A). Since the 10th was targeted on Iron Curtain Europe, these men’s language skills and culture knowledge were needed. The 10th was full of such men in the 50’s and early 60’s. So, Captain Thorne’s story in SF is not surprising. I served with such men; my 509th battalion XO was Maj C.Q. Williams, a Medal of Honor recipient who defended an SF Camp against an overwhelming enemy force.

  10. rgr1480 says:

    This is soooo coool! Cpl. Larry Thorne was on my dad’s team ca 1955. Dad was a 1SG in the 505th then went to the 77th Special Forces Group ca. 1954~57.

    Cpl Thorne entering the 77th SFG(A):
    https://ibb.co/T11xZYv

    Thorne and Dad went on to OCS.
    Dad served in the 1st, 6th, 5th, and Training Group. While at Training Group (67-68), he was the S4 and worked under LTC Aito Keravuori — the man who was Törni/Thorne’s higher. Keravuori and Thorne were together in the 10th SFG in Germany:
    https://ibb.co/qJhzjB1
    Thorne second from left; Keravuori on the right.

    I have photos of Thorne as a roofer before he could enter the US Army, and a couple of him as a recruit (courtesy a friend).

    • rgr1480 says:

      Thorne wearing Iron Cross 2nd Class ca 1950, wearing his Finnish officer’s uniform:
      https://ibb.co/V9KbBgW

      Photo from one of the biographies about Thorne.

      Thorne at Linville River Bridge, in NC, ca 1955:
      https://ibb.co/hKVg7Yg

      • rgr1480 says:

        This was LTC K’s final jump before retirement.
        https://ibb.co/x8b8CXF
        Right to left: Colonel George D. Callaway, Major [Dad — redacted], Lieutenant Colonel Aito Keravuori; 23 Nov 1967

        During his retirement, Keravuori was promoted to full colonel. Pass in review:
        https://ibb.co/4m3CGG3
        BG Albert E Milloy, LTC Aito Keravuori. Don’t know who the LTC in front is.

    • Mason says:

      I love when there’s a personal connection one of our members has to a VF subject.

      Thank you, so much for sharing these photos!

  11. Mean Gene says:

    Reading through this it appears he was almost 40 when he went though SF Training, and was helling about in Vietnam at 46… Not a spring Chicken… Bad ass til the end

    [Edited to remove PII -Mason]

  12. Mike Nugent says:

    I was in Helsinki a few years ago and stopped in to visit a Finish military museum. They had a very well done display that told Thorne’s story, and included a display of his awards, Finish, German, and U.S. Probably the only place you’ll see a LoM, DFC, and BSM along side of an Iron Cross!

  13. DWI says:

    “During the anti-communist Continuation War in Finland (fought by Finnish partisans with and alongside Nazi German forces against the Soviets)”

    Error – Finland fought the Continuation War with national forces (Army, Navy, Air Force) not as partisans.

  14. rgr1480 says:

    Allegedly this is Törni as ᛋᛋ recruit:
    https://ibb.co/SrLfJ19

    Torne Roofing:
    https://rgr1480.imgbb.com/

    As a recruit at Ft. Dix:
    https://ibb.co/ScsnqFs

    #45:
    https://ibb.co/4d80jgk

    Photos from a friend who ended up donating them to a Finnish museum in Florida.