Friday, March 6, 2009
Blast From the Past
One thing I noticed during my Air Force career was the total lack of history knowledge of the Air Force and Army Air Corps that the average Airman possessed. This is the exact opposite of what I was exposed to on the Marine Corps as every Marine learns the history of the Corps from the start of Recruit Training. Mention Tun Tavern or Chesty Puller and every Marine will know exactly what you are talking about. Mention Leo Thorsness to a group of Airman and I guarantee you will meet a blank stare. To try and remedy this I will start adding more blasts from the pasts to include heroic Airmen and operations. Of course I must be true to my military origins and will do additional stories of Marines.
Leo K. Thorsness, Colonel, USAF
Col Leo Thorsness enlisted in the USAF in 1953 and earned his wings and commission through the Air Cadet program. Col Thorsness was a fighter pilot who flew the F-84, F-100 and transitioned to the F-105 Thunderchief. In 1966 he was trained as a Wild Weasel and assigned to the355 Fighter Wing at Takhli Thailand. Col Thorsness earned the Medal of Honor during one of his Weasel missions. Here is the citation from his medal that was earned on April 19 1967 during a mission downtown to Hanoi
The President of the United States in the name of the Congress takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor to
LIEUTENANT COLONEL LEO K. THORSNESS
UNITED STATES AIR FORCE
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 the 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. Upon 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. Lieutenant Colonel 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.
Col Thorsness did not actually get his medal had to wait until he was repatriated in March of 1973. 11 days after his historic mission he was shot down by a Mig 21 and was captured spending six years in captivity as a POW. Col Thorsness retired from active duty in October 1973