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American Valor
Leo Thorsness
Interview Excerpt

Rarely did anybody ever finish 100 missions, which was required to go home.And I was shot down for example on my 93rd mission, and I was one of the old time weasels that made it that long.

When I hit the air stream I was doing close to 600 knots, and uh, my feet went straight sideways to my knees, so both knees were totally blown out on the inside of my knees, and then back was hurt some, but I made it out.

I kept thinking, I wonder how my family will take this, my wife and my daughter, 'cause the odds I knew were pretty high I may end up, never end up alive after I got to that jungle down there. And I was so close to, I was trying to get home by Mother's day. I had seven missions to go. And, but the other thought that kept going through my mind was Leo, you're gonna make it.

I got on the ground, they just cut all my clothes off, and they put this black bag over my head, and the last thing I saw before that bag went on the head, a guy was pulling a machete back, pointing right at my stomach. And I wasn't afraid, I probably didn't have time, or you're in shock. Later I guess I was, but obviously he didn't thrust it forward. And then a day and a half later or so I ended up in Hanoi.

I was in Hanoi six years. Three years were brutal, torture was normal. Three years were boring, torture was abnormal. Three years you lived in solitary or two or three per cell, couldn't talk out loud, did a lot of beating and so on. last three years I lived in big cells, you could talk out loud, you got to pour a bucket of water over you most days for a bath, and life was a little better.

When I came home from Hanoi I got sick, I was taken off at Hawaii, I had my own C-141 when they brought me back from uh, Hawaii to Scott Air Force base. And we got next to the California coast it was night, and I asked if I could come up and see the lights of San Francisco when they could see 'em. So I did, they took me up there, and they said, do you want to make a position report? And I said, who are we? And they said, we're Homecoming 7, was the seventh airplane. So I called up and I said, hello, uh, San Francisco, Homecoming 7, you know, clearance please, and they said welcome home. And then they played Don't Fence Me In. The thought that went through my mind, you know, for a Minnesota farm kid, this is not bad. They said, you have presidential clearance from present position direct St. Louis.

In a prison camp you had to bow 90 degrees, if you didn't bow right they'd beat you and one day I was not gonna bow and I was hoping that my courage was strong, the guard opened the door, and I looked him in the eye and I didn't bow, and, and the thought that went through my mind, and it wasn't pre-thought, was I won the flip of the coin. I said, you know, he could have been, had American parents and I could have had Vietnamese parents. How'd I luck out? And it really made a, it made an impact on me. And from that day on, I felt kind of sorry for those guys over there. You know,just by birthright, I was handed this fantastic amount of freedom.

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