Born: February 14, 1932
Walnut Grove, Minnesota
Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
(then Major), U.S. Air Force, 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron
Location of action: Over North Vietnam
Date of action: April 19, 1967
Medal received from: Richard Nixon, October 15, 1973
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, Lieutenant Colonel Thorsness was on a surface-to-air missile
suppression mission over North Vietnam. Lieutenant Colonel 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, Lieutenant Colonel Thorsness’ wingman was shot down by intensive
antiaircraft fire, and the two crewmembers abandoned their aircraft.
Lieutenant Colonel 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. Lieutenant Colonel 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.
being advised that two helicopters were orbiting over the downed
crew’s position and that there were hostile MIGs in the
area posing a serious threat to the helicopters, Lieutenant Colonel Thorsness,
despite his low fuel condition, decided to return alone through
a hostile environment of surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft
defenses to the downed crew’s position. As he approached
the area, he spotted four MIG-17 aircraft and immediately initiated
an attack on the MIGs, damaging one 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, Lieutenant Colonel 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.
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.
Thorsness received his Bachelors degree from the University
of Omaha, and his Masters degree from the University of Southern
California. He served 23 years in the United States Air Force,
at duty stations including Turner AFB, Albany, GA; Seymour Johnson
AFB, Goldsboro, NC; Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany; Nellis AFB,
Las Vegas, NV, and Takhli Air Base in Thailand.
From 1979 to 1985, Thorsness was
Director of Civic Affairs for Litton Industries in Beverly
Hills, CA. He was a Washington State Senator from 1988 to
1992. Thorsness served as Technical Advisor on American Valor,
a role he previously played on the production of the motion
picture The Hanoi Hilton. He presently serves on the Board
of Directors and is Vice Chairman of the Medal of Honor Foundation.
Read an except from
Leo Thorsness' interview.