The Search for Larry A. Thorne: Missing in Action, Vietnam

Article excerpt

To the U.S. Army, he was Captain Larry A. Thorne. In Finland, he was much-decorated war hero Lauri Tomi. Vietnam was his fourth war. He had worn a uniform for three dif-- ferent armies, three different coun-- tries, in four different decades. In October 1965, he and three South Vietnamese crewmen disappeared in a Republic of Vietnam Air Force CH-34 helicopter somewhere in the jungle near Kham Doc.

Thorne enlisted in the U.S. Army in January 1954. However, it was not his first time in uniform-not even close. He had also served in the Finn-- ish Army, fighting in the Winter War of 1939- 1940, and in Germany he did a training stint with the Waffen S.S. After his return to Finland, he fought in the Continuation War. He also fought with German guerrillas against the Russians during World War II, for which he was awarded the German Iron Cross Second Class. In six years, he had fought in three wars and had been awarded every award for valor that Finland had to give, including the Mannerheim Cross, Finland's equivalent of the Medal of Honor.

Thorne's stint with the Waffen S.S., complete with photos of him-- self in a German S.S. uniform, proved an especially tough hurdle to overcome when he later applied to join the U.S. Army. But, in 1956, after serious lobbying, he received U.S. citizenship and his commission as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps.

By late 1960, Thorne had attained the rank of captain and become a member of the Army's elite Special Forces, the Green Berets. In 1962, he led his Special Forces detachment to the summit of Iran's Zagros Moun-- tains to recover classified material that was being transported on a U.S. Army aircraft that had crashed. Al-- though German and Iranian expedi-- tions to the 14,000-foot crash site had failed, Thorne and his men secured the information and recovered the bodies of the aircrew.

In November 1963, Thome and Detachment A-743 entered Vietnam for a six-month tour. In April 1964, author Robin Moore was in Tinh Bien where Thorne's detachment was stationed. Moore was gathering material for a book on Special Forces based on the detachment's exploits. The book, The Green Berets, became a best-selling novel and later became a movie that starred John Wayne.1

The film did not accurately depict the ferocious fighting that occurred at Tinh Bien and other camps. As evidence of the battle's true fierce-- ness, consider this: every member of Detachment A-743 received a Purple Heart for wounds suffered at the camp in Tinh Bien. Thome received two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for valor.

Thorne's second tour to South Vietnam was his last. In February 1965, he was assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne). Soon afterward, Thorne was fun-- neled into a special operations augmentation program, then into Headquarters Company, U.S. Mili-- tary Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV), Special Detachment 5 89 1. Thorne became a soldier in the secret war in Laos.

According to H.A. Gill III's book, Soldier Under Three Flags, Thorne was the newest member of the top secret Studies and Observations Group (SOG), whose mission was gathering information.2 On 18 Octo-- ber 1965, Thome and three Vietnam-- ese crewmen were returning on a CH-34 helicopter from a covert mis-- sion in Laos. The pilot had radioed Kham Duc complaining about low visibility because of heavy clouds just before the helicopter disap-- peared. Exhaustive searches for the crash site were undertaken with no luck. Enemy fire, poor weather, and the rugged terrain made searching even more difficult. On 19 October 1966, the U.S. Army listed Thorne as killed in action, body not recovered.

Before his final mission, Thorne had been recommended for promo-- tion to major and was being groomed for a staff job as an intelligence of-- ficer. He was posthumously pro-- moted to major in December 1965. His family also received his posthu-- mous Distinguished Flying Cross Medal. …