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Lauri Alan Törni, "Lasse"
Larry Thorne
Larry Thorne in the U.S. Army
Nickname Lasse
Born (1919-05-28)May 28, 1919
Died October 18, 1965(1965-10-18) (aged 46)
Place of birth Viipuri, Finland
Place of death Vietnam (Operation Shining Brass)
Allegiance Finland Finland
Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
United States United States of America[1]
Service/branch Finnish Army
Waffen SS
United States Army
Years of service 1938–1945 (Finnish Army)
1945 (Waffen SS)
1954–1965 (U.S. Army)
Rank Captain (Finland)
Hauptsturmführer[1] (Germany)
Major (USA)
Unit Infantry Regiment 12 (Finland)
SS Freiwilligen Bataillon Nordost (Germany)
Green Berets, Detachment A743, MACV-SOG
5th Special Forces Group (Airborne)
Battles/wars

World War II

Vietnam War
Awards Mannerheim Cross
Iron Cross 2nd Class[1]
Bronze Star
Purple Heart (2)
Distinguished Flying Cross ribbon.svg  Distinguished Flying Cross
Presidential Unit Citation ribbon.svg  Presidential Unit Citation (United States) 2001, Studies and Observations Group

Lauri Alan Törni (28 May 1919 – 18 October 1965), later known as Larry Thorne, was a Finnish Army captain who led an infantry company in the Finnish Winter and Continuation Wars and moved to the United States after World War II. He is known as the soldier who fought under three flags: Finnish, German (when he fought the Soviets in World War II) and American (where he was known as Larry Thorne) when he served in U.S. Army Special Forces in the Vietnam War.

Early life[edit | edit source]

Christened "Lauri Alan Törni", he was born in Viipuri, Finland, to a ship captain. He entered military service in 1938, attending Reserve Officer school in Hamina in February 1940 during the Winter War.

Career[edit | edit source]

World War II[edit | edit source]

Lauri Törni as SS- Untersturmführer.

In autumn 1939, Lauri Törni was completing his enlistment in the Finnish Army when the Soviet Union attacked Finland. Törni's conscription in the army was extended as part of the country's general mobilization, and was originally assigned to supply troops. During the battles at Lake Ladoga he was transferred to the front line. He took part in the annihilation of the encircled Russian divisions in Lemetti. His heroic feats during these engagements were quickly noticed by his commanders. Toward the end of the war he was assigned to officer training where he was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant. After the Winter War, in 1941, Törni went to Germany to train with the Waffen-SS, but soon returned to Finland.

Törni (in the middle) as Finnish lieutenant

Most of Törni's reputation was based on his successful feats in the Continuation War (1941–44) between the Soviet Union and Finland. In 1943 a famous unit informally named Detachment Törni was created under his command. This was an infantry unit that penetrated deep behind enemy lines and soon enjoyed a reputation on both sides of the front for its combat effectiveness. One of Törni's men was future President of Finland, Mauno Koivisto. The two served together during the Battle of Ilomantsi, which was the final Finnish-Soviet engagement of the Continuation War during July and August 1944. Koivisto participated in the battle as a soldier assigned to a reconnaissance company under the command of Captain Törni.

Törni's unit inflicted such heavy casualties on Russian units that the Soviet Army placed a bounty on his head (3 million Finnish Marks, equivalent to 650,000 USD). He was reputedly the only Finnish officer to have had a bounty. He was decorated with the Mannerheim Cross on 9 July 1944.

Törni was dissatisfied with the terms of the Finnish peace treaty with the Soviets, which required Finland to take up arms against Germany in the Lapland War. The Finnish government believed he had fought enough and discharged him. In 1945, he was recruited by a pro-German resistance movement in Finland and left for saboteur training in Germany, and to organize resistance in case Finland were occupied by the Soviet Union. He surrendered to British troops in the last stages of World War II and eventually returned to Finland after escaping a British POW camp. Törni was arrested by ValPo (State Police) upon his return and sentenced to six years in prison for treason for having joined the German army.[1] Törni was pardoned by President Paasikivi in December 1948.

United States[edit | edit source]

In 1949 Törni, accompanied by his wartime executive officer Holger Pitkänen, traveled to Sweden, crossing the border from Tornio to Haparanda (Haaparanta), where many inhabitants were of ethnic Finnish origin. From Haparanda Törni traveled by railroad to Stockholm where he stayed with the Baroness von Essen, who harbored many fugitive Finnish officers following the war. Pitkänen was arrested and repatriated to Finland, but Törni fell in love with a Swedish Finn, Marja Kops, and was soon engaged to be married. Hoping to establish a career before the marriage, Törni traveled disguised under an alias as a Swedish seaman aboard the SS Bolivia, destined for Caracas, Venezuela. In Caracas's harbour, Törni met one of his Winter War commanders, Finnish colonel Matti Aarnio, who was in exile having settled in Venezuela after the war. In 1950 Caracas, Törni was hired on to a Swedish cargo ship, the MS Skagen, destined for the United States. While in the Gulf of Mexico, near Mobile, Alabama, Törni jumped overboard and swam to shore. Törni traveled to New York City where he was helped by the Finnish-American community living in Brooklyn's "Finntown." There he worked as a carpenter and cleaner. In 1953, Törni was granted a residence permit through an Act of Congress that was shepherded by the law firm of "Wild Bill" Donovan, the former head of the OSS, America's wartime covert military organization.

Törni joined the U.S. Army in 1954 under the provisions of the Lodge-Philbin Act and adopted the name Larry Thorne. While in the US Army, he was befriended by a group of Finnish-American officers who came to be known as "Marttinen's Men." Similar to Thorne, this group of decorated Finnish wartime officers had immigrated to the United States and were inducted into the US Army under the Lodge Act. Several were brought into the U.S. Special Forces at its inception.

With their support, Private Thorne was soon on his way into the Special Forces. While in the Special Forces, he taught skiing, survival, mountaineering, and guerrilla tactics. In turn he attended Airborne School, and quickly advanced in rank, attaining a reserve commission as a 2nd lieutenant in 1957. He later received a regular commission and a promotion to captain in 1960. From 1958 to 1962 he served in the 10th Special Forces Group in West Germany. While there he was second in command of a search and rescue mission in the Zagros mountains of Iran, which gained him a notable reputation.

In November 1963 Thorne joined Special Forces unit A-734 in Vietnam and fought in the Mekong Delta, where he was twice decorated.

In 1965, Thorne transferred to MACVSOG training unit in Vietnam as a military advisor. On 18 October 1965, he left for a clandestine mission where his helicopter crashed in a mountainous area of Vietnam, 25 miles (40 km) away from Da Nang. When a rescue team arrived, they were unable to locate the crash site. The coordinates are 48 PYB 9455 8960.

Shortly after his disappearance, Thorne was promoted to the rank of major.

Larry Thorne's remains were found in 1999 and formally identified in 2003. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, section 60, tombstone 8136, on 26 June 2003.

Legacy[edit | edit source]

Thorne's U.S. memorial is the Larry Thorne Headquarters Building, 10th SFG(A), Fort Carson, Colorado. In Finland, the survivors, friends and families of Detachment Törni formed the Lauri Törni Tradition Guild.

In the book The Green Berets by Robin Moore, the "Sven Kornie" main character in the first chapter was based on Larry Thorne. The book was later made into a movie by the same name starring John Wayne.

In the 2004 TV programme Suuret Suomalaiset ("Great Finns"), Larry Thorne was voted the 52nd greatest Finn of all time.

Literature[edit | edit source]

  • Cleverley, J. Michael: Born a Soldier, The Times and Life of Larry Thorne, October 2008, Booksurge. 354 page and 17 photographs, maps and timeline, ISBN 978-1-4392-1437-4. OCLC 299168934
  • Cleverley, J. Michael: Syntynyt Sotilaaksi, November 2003, Otava Publishing Co. 416 pages and 22 photographs, maps and timeline, ISBN 951-1-18853-4. OCLC 58340971
  • Cleverley, J. Michael: Lauri Törni Yrke Soldat, October 2008, Svenskt Militärhistoriskt Bibliotek, 361 pages, photographs, maps, and timeline, ISBN 978-91-85789-22-1.
  • Gill III, H. A.: The Soldier Under Three Flags, June 1998, Pathfinder publishing. 208 pages and 37 photographs, ISBN 0-934793-65-4. OCLC 38468782
  • Kallonen, Kari – Sarjanen, Petri: "Legenda – Lauri Törni, Larry Thorne", 2004, Revontuli Publishing Co. 397 pages and 100 photographs, ISBN 952-5170-38-1.

Notes[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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