|MOH Lt. Col. Leo Thorsness
In a post on Power Line, Scott Johnson announced the publishing of a paperback edition of Surviving Hell: A POW’S Journeyby Medal of Honor recipient, Lt. Col. Leo Thorsness, an F-105 Thunderchief pilot during the Vietnam War.
All of Thorsness’ missions were Wild Weasel Missions, sometimes called “Iron Hand Missions”. The plane had a Trained Bear – an electronic warfare officer in the back seat, and as much state-of-the-art equipment that was available mounted in the two-seat F-105. Their job was to “seek and destroy” SAMs (Surface to Air Missile) sites.
“On April 19, 1967, 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 the attack on the second missile site, Lt. Col. Thorsness’ wingman was shot down by intensive antiaircraft fire, and the two crewmembers abandoned their aircraft”
“Lt. Col. 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. Lt. Col. 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. Upon being advised that two helicopters were orbiting over the downed crew’s position and that there were hostile MlGs in the area posing a serious threat to the helicopters, Lt. Col. Thorsness, despite his low fuel condition, decided to return alone through a hostile environment of surface-to-air missile and antiaircraft 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 MlGs, 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, Lt. Col. 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.”
On April 30, 1967, while flying his ninety-third mission just seven shy of the 100 needed to go home, Maj. Leo Thorsness and his back seater, Harry Johnson, were shot down over North Vietnam.
They were captured and, as prisoners of war, joined the two airmen who Thorsness had directed rescue efforts for on April 19.Thorsness was captured by a mix of militia and regular army soon after arriving on the ground.
|POW Leo Thorsness
He was in interrogation for nineteen days and eighteen nights, without sleep.
Of the beatings, Thorsness says, “Oftentimes they would take a fan belt, cut it in half, and beat you with it. It’s like a rubber hose, but, unlike a hose, the fan belt is solid. Finally, after so much the mind begins to hallucinate and that saves the body. The pain dissolves and you can’t feel it anymore.
After time in interrogation, Thorsness was put into a cell with another prisoner, and then into solitary. He was held six years.
The Medal of Honor was awarded by the United States Congress during his captivity, but not announced until his release in 1973 to prevent the Vietnamese from using it against Thorsness
|Surviving Hell: A POW’s Journey
“Surviving Hell: A POW’S Journey recounts a six-year captivity marked by hours of brutal torture. Thorsness describes how he and other American POWs strove to keep their humanity. Thrown into solitary confinement for refusing to bow down to his captors, for instance, he disciplined his mind by memorizing long passages of poetry that other prisoners sent him by tap code.
Filled with hope and humor, Surviving Hell is an eloquent story of resistance and survival. No other book about American POWs has described so well the strategies these remarkable men used in their daily effort to maintain their dignity.
With resilience and resourcefulness, they waged war by other means in the darkest days of a long captivity.”