RIP  May 2, 2017

Name: Leo K. Thorsness
Rank/Branch: O4/United States Air Force
Unit: 357th Tactical Fighter
Date of Birth: 14 February 1932 Walnut Grove MN
Home City of Record: Storden MN
Date of Loss: 30 April 1967
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 211830N 1045940E
Status (in 1973): Returnee
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F105F
Missions: 93
Other Personnel in Incident: Johnson, Harold E. Returnee

Source: Compiled by P.O.W. NETWORK 03 March 1997 from one or more of the
following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with
POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews, quotes from "And Brave Men,
Too" by Timothy S. Lowry.  2020



All Thorsness' missions were Wild Weasel Missions, sometimes called "Iron
Hand Missions". The plane had a Trained Bear - an electronic warfare officer
[EWO] - in the back seat, and as much state-of-the-art equipment that was
available mounted in the two-seat F-105.

Their job was to "seek and destroy" SAMs [Surface to Air Missile] sites The
idea was "to troll high enough to let them shoot at you, yet low enough so
you could get down to the deck and out-maneuver the SAMs." The loss rate was
very heavy. A  hundred missions completed the tour of duty instead of a year
for the ground people. The Wild Weasel was a very high-threat job and few
people completed a hundred missions.

Leo Thorsness was piloting the plane and Harry Johnson was the back seater.
It was Johnson's job to spot the active SAM sites on the ground at the same
time he watched the skies for MIG attacks.

A typical Wild Weasel mission would go in with four planes. On April 19,
Thorsness' wingman, was shot down over the foothills west of Hanoi. Search
and rescue attempts failed to locate the men.

On April 30, 1967, while flying his ninety-third mission just seven shy of
going home, Maj. Leo Thorsness and his back seater, Harry Johnson, were shot
down over North Vietnam. They were captured and, as prisoners of war, joined
the two airmen who Thorsness had directed rescue efforts for on April 19.

Thorsness was captured by a mix of militia and regular army soon after
arriving on the ground. He was in interrogation for nineteen days and
eighteen nights, without sleep. His torture did not end there. Of the
beatings, Thorsness says, "Oftentimes they would take a fan belt, cut it in
half, and beat you with it. It's like a rubber hose, but, unlike a hose, the
fan belt is solid. Finally, after so much the mind begins to hallucinate and
that saves the body. The pain dissolves and you can't feel it anymore.
You're beyond that point. The North Vietnamese didn't know when to stop as
far as trying to get information. They were brutal, but they just weren't
sophisticated. Oftentimes they didn't know when to stop. They either broke
you, or you died."

Thorsness was in captivity when a Cuban team came in 1968 and stayed for a
year. They taught the North Vietnamese how to extract information. Thorsness
was not among the eight tortured by the Cubans, but they systematically
tortured another in the camp, Earl Cobiel, to death. Corbeil was struck
along the brow with a hose and didn't blink. And they took a rusty nail and
carved a bloody X across his back.

"With a wire, strap, or rope, the guards would pull your elbows together
behind your back. Then they'd tie your hands together at the wrist and pull,
cutting off the circulation. They would put a clevis around your feet and
run a bar through it. It was hardest if they put the clevis behind because
they'd bend you forward and put your head under the bar. Sometimes they'd
hoist you off the floor and it felt like your sternum was going to break.
Generally, you'd pass out. It didn't bother them if they dislocated your
shoulders; most of us had our shoulders dislocated. We called it the
Suitcase Trick. It was brutal, painfully brutal," Thorsness related.

After time in interrogation, Thorsness was put into a cell with another
prisoner, and then into solitary. He was held six years. Three years were
brutal and the second three years were "boring" as torture eased because of
pressure in the U.S. from family members.

Thorsness received the Medal of Honor while in captivity, prior to the Nixon
inauguration. The announcement was kept secret, so the Vietnam could not use
the information against him. It was one of many awards and decorations he
received when he came home.

Leo K. Thorsness retired from the United States Air Force as a Colonel.
After his release, he pursued prosecution for those he felt collaborated
with the enemy while in captivy. His efforts failed, but only because of the
political climate at the time.

He and his wife Gaylee reside in Washington state. They have been married
more than 40 years and have one daughter. Thorsness has previously served as
a Washington State Senator.


Medal of Honor


Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel (then Maj.), U.S. Air Force, 357th
Tactical Fighter Squadron.

Place and date: Over North Vietnam, 19 April 1967.

Entered service at: Walnut Grove, Minn.

Born: 14 February 1932, Walnut Grove, Minn.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of
his life above and beyond the call of duty. As pilot of an F-105 aircraft,
Lt. Col. Thorsness was on a surface-to-air missile suppression mission over
North Vietnam. Lt. Col. Thorsness and his wingman attacked and silenced a
surface-to-air missile site with air-to-ground missiles, and then destroyed
a second surface-to-air missile site with bombs. In tile attack on the
second missile site, Lt. Col. Thorsness' wingman was shot down by intensive
antiaircraft fire, and the 2 crewmembers abandoned their aircraft. Lt. Col.
Thorsness circled the descending parachutes to keep the crewmembers in sight
and relay their position to the Search and Rescue Center. During this
maneuver, a MIG-17 was sighted in the area. Lt. Col. Thorsness immediately
initiated an attack and destroyed the MIG. Because his aircraft was low on
fuel, he was forced to depart the area in search of a tanker. Upon being
advised that 2 helicopters were orbiting over the downed crew's position and
that there were hostile MlGs in the area posing a serious threat to the
helicopters, Lt. Col. Thorsness, despite his low fuel condition, decided to
return alone through a hostile environment of surface-to-air missile and
antiaircraft defenses to the downed crew's position. As he approached the
area, he spotted 4 MIG-17 aircraft and immediately initiated an attack on
the MlGs, damaging 1 and driving the others away from the rescue scene. When
it became apparent that an aircraft in the area was critically low on fuel
and the crew would have to abandon the aircraft unless they could reach a
tanker, Lt. Col. Thorsness, although critically short on fuel himself,
helped to avert further possible loss of life and a friendly aircraft by
recovering at a forward operating base, thus allowing the aircraft in
emergency fuel condition to refuel safely. Lt. Col. Thorsness' extraordinary
heroism, self-sacrifice, and personal bravery involving conspicuous risk of
life were in the highest traditions of the military service, and have
reflected great credit upon himself and the U.S. Air Force.

"Truth Bill" has Washington State Legislature Backing       03/09/90

   The Legislature of the State of Washington passed a bill which urges the
Federal Government to release information on about 30,000 U.S. soldiers
listed as either prisoners of war or missing in action in conflicts dating
back to World War II.

   The measure SJM 8020, passed unanimously in both the state House and
Senate, is an effort tohelp find the "truth" about soldiers who vanished
while serving in the Vietnam War, the Korean Conflict, and World War II. It
urges the Congress of the United States to pass the "Truth Bill," HR3603,
which would force the federal government to declassify information
pertaining to over 30,000 missing American servicemen.

   The measure's sponsors, Sen. Leo Thorsness, R-Seattle, said the
government keeps the information classified to protect intelligence sources.

   But Thorsness, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for six years and
Medal of Honor winner, said the sources are no longer useful because the
conflicts occurred decades ago.

   "To leave American prisoners of war behind after the war ends is
unconscionable," said Thorsness. "It is contrary to the most fundamental
beliefs on which this country was founded."

   Delores Alfond, sister of Major Victor J. Apodaca, USAF, missing from the
Vietnam War since 1967, and a member of Washington State POW/MIA Concerned
Citizens, celebrated the bill's passage by pledging to help lobby the "Truth
Bill" in the U.S. Congress.

   Mrs. Alfond played a key role in helping Thorsness push SJM 8020 to a
successful conclusion in the Washington State Legislature.

Katy resident meets Vietnam vet at Astros game



As a teen, Ellis had worn Thorsness' POW for two years

By Mary L. Hamilton
Special to the Times
Friday, September 17, 2010 3:11 PM CDT
Jane Ellis of Nottingham Country never suspected that accepting a friend’s invitation to an Astros game would bring her face-to-face with her hero of the past four decades......
Leo Thorsness' Status
This is what Leo sent to the MOH Society:

Feb 1 - Mar 9 - 2016
Acute Myeloid Leukemia - Leo Thorsness
Lousy few weeks

Feb 1, 2016: A routine blood draw at the VA found abnormal lows in my White, Red, and blood platelets.
Feb 16: I was sent for a redo at the VA hematology blood draw shop and finding was confirmed. I was told that my odds were 80% of MDS, fancy name for a blood disorder, caused by the lack of production of cells in bone marrow manufacturing plant. This MDS often turns into Acute Leukemia. Mine has.
Feb 29: The gold standard to confirm this disease is a hip bone biopsy. That was done this date and findings were confirmed. I developed high fevers and mental disorientation and was taken to the ER at Baptist South hospital in Jacksonville (JAX), FL.
Mar 4: More fever spikes, mental confusion, and extreme pain in legs and neck. I was transferred to MD Anderson / Baptist Hospital in JAX in the Adult Oncology ward. Must have been given at least 2 zillion IV, blood draws, antibodies, steroids, muscle relaxants and other medications to stop the fever and secondary infection.09
Mar 6: the extreme pain in legs and neck began to subside and mental cognizance began to return.
Mar 9: I was sent home and will begin Physical Therapy tomorrow.
Mar15: Plan is to start Chemo Therapy: 4 days on, 20 days off.
No life expectancy prognosis till they get more into Chemo and begin to see results.
All my tests / results / records are being shared real time electronically with the best oncologist in Johns Hopkins. The Johns Hopkins oncologist in Baltimore and the Baptist Main/MD Anderson oncologist in JAX are in contact and have consulted together before. My family and I are confident I am receiving state of the art care.
The hundreds of prayers and offers of help are most appreciated. I am blessed with true friends and a Blessed family. If others ask, you are free to pass this on.
For now I will be communicating but rarely - except with family and the Lord. Thank you again for your prayers and good thoughts. Remember, keep your blood cells manufacturing plant working well.



Hello Troops                                                            
March 16, 2017                                                  

Quick Leo leukemia cancer update.

My Leukemia chemo has run its course so next step is a clinical trial.

Gaylee and I visited Houston M.D. Anderson Cancer Center early this week. They did a series of extensive tests (blood - 17 vials), x-rays, bone
marrow biopsy, etc.

By Monday, 20 March, they will have full test results.  At that time they will recommend one of a few trials.   One good trial is given by
Mayo Clinic here in Jacksonville, FL (home).

It would be much easier to do trials at home rather than move to Houston for a few months. If the test results indicate the Mayo trial is as good
as those in Houston, I will push to have it done in JAX.

No secrets about my cancer so you are free to pass on this info if folks are interested.

Take good care - life is fragile.

Blessings and tailwinds,

Leo and Ms Gaylee


Madison Vietnam veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Leo Thorsness passes away at 85

 Vietnam veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Colonel Leo Thorsness, USAF (retired), of Madison, has died,
according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. He was 85. There are now just 74 living recipients of the
Medal of Honor. He is survived by his wife, Gaylee, whom he married in 1953...



Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Leo K. Thorsness, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during a dogfight over North Vietnam and who later ...

Medal of Honor recipient passes away at 85 - Air Force Link

Air Force Magazine Daily Report

The Florida Times-Union
 Obituary Jacksonville, FL

The Washington Post 
Daily Republic  - - PIERRE — Flags at the State Capitol will fly at half-staff on Monday, May 8, to honor the life of Leo Thorsness, a recipient of the Congressional Medal ...
War hero, politician Leo Thorsness dies - Watertown Public Opinion

The only MN native wearing a Congressional Medal of Honor left us this week
GoMN  - - -   Air Force Lt. Col. Leo Thorsness, who was the only living Minnesota recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, died this week at age 85. During a ...
He was a belated recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism on a mission that took place 11 days before he was shot down and ...



From: barney
Sent: 3 May, 2017 13:49
Subject: RE: FW: RIP Leo Thorsness

A great loss!  Thorsness was in the early groups of F-105's that had literally no SAM detection equipment. 
They flew North to draw fire from SAM's and then turned into them and blasted them visually.  I just
finished reading "Hunter Killers," the tale of these early "Wild Weasels."  The later 105's and F-4's had
great detection EW stuff, and would even launch a HARM missile, lob it up and when it turned over
and started down, it could home in on a SAM site.  Such pre-emptive HARM launches scared the shit
out of us in the BUFF's above them as there was no way to tell if the missile we saw coming up was an
SA-2, or a HARM launched by a 105.  After a couple days, the 105 guys would announce, "Okay, BUFF's,
"Bear 04," here, launching a HARM, it's not coming as high as you."  Leo Thorsness was there before all
the fancy stuff; those guys were literally flying with big balls, drawing fire, and shooting back.


Best read on website.
Fair Skies and Tailwinds, GBU Colonel Thorsness     dww

A tribute to a humble American Patriot and Medal of Honor recipient, Col. Leo Thorsness.
Mark Alexander   May 24, 2017


Leo's Arlington ceremony will be held on February 14, 2018, at 9:00 a.m.


Medal of Honor Recipient and POW Whose Valor Was 'Hard To Keep Secret'
Leo K. Thorsness is one of the most highly decorated American airmen of the Vietnam War and a recipient of the Medal of Honor for his heroism on a mission that took place just over a week before he was shot down and taken prisoner for nearly six years. He is pictured above with President Richard ...
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota will recognize a Medal of Honor recipient by flying flags at half-staff at state and federal buildings. Minnesota Public Radio reports that flags will be flown half-staff on Wednesday as a birthday remembrance of Major Leo Thorsness, who died in May. Thorsness risked ...
In 1967, a 35-year-old Air Force pilot from Minnesota risked his life in a mission over North Vietnam, defending a downed air crew. Major Leo Thorsness died last May, and flags will be at half-staff at state and federal buildings on Wednesday as a birthday remembrance of the Medal of Honor pilot.
Two A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft and two F-15 Eagles fly in formation over the full honors funeral for retired Col. Leo Thorsness at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Feb. 14, 2018. Thorsness received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in combat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty ...
Remembering Medal of Honor recipient Col. Leo Thorsness
Vietnam veteran who spent six years as a prisoner of war in the infamous 'Hanoi Hilton' is laid to rest at with full military honors at Arlington National Ceremony.


More info: