U.S. Army private Larry Thorne may have been new to the United States military, but he was not new to service. In fact, he had been battling the Soviets for most of his life under the name Lauri Torni, a Finnish soldier.
During the Winter War, Lauri Torni enlisted in Finland’s army and fought the Soviet Union during the Winter War from 1939-1940. Rising through the ranks, he became a captain taking command of ski troops.
He skied into a mine in 1942, but he did not let his injury slow his career. During the Continuation War in 1944, he received the Mannerheim Cross, Finland’s Medal of Honor, for bravery.
In 1944, Finland signed a ceasefire with the Soviets and gave them some territory. Torni did not want to surrender, so he joined the German SS in order to keep fighting the communists.
He was trained in Nazi Germany, but Germany fell too. Since he had been fighting for the SS, Torni was arrested by the British.
However, he escaped from their custody and went back to Finland. He went to prison for treason. The President of Finland pardoned him in 1948.
Coming to America
In 1950, the United States passed the Lodge-Philibin Act. It allowed people from other countries to come to the U.S. and receive citizenship, if they served honorably for at minimum five years.
Fort Bragg started the Special Forces unit in 1952. After the passing of the Act, 200 eastern Europeans joined the Special Forces. The Act expired in 1959.
This piece of legislation allowed Torni to become Larry Thorne, and become an Army legend.
Even though Thorne started as a private, he quickly became an instructor. He taught at the Special Warfare School in Fort Bragg on survival, guerrilla tactics and everything in between.
He became a second lieutenant and right before Vietnam, he became a captain. In 1962 he headed an important mission to get classified material from a plane that had crashed on the Iran-Soviet-Turkish border. Thornes team was the fourth to try to recover the documents, and they succeeded.
Thorne received a Bronze Star for heroism, plus five Purple Hearts during Vietnam for battle wounds. Even though he received wounds, he wanted to be back at the front, requesting command of a special operations base.
In October of 1965, he led the first MACV-SOG mission to Laos. Unfortunately, his helicopter crashed, and he was never recovered.