Lauri Törni

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Lauri Allan Törni, "Lasse"
Larry Thorne
Larry Thorne in the U.S. Army
Nickname(s) Lasse
Born (1919-05-28)May 28, 1919
Viipuri, Viipuri Province (Karelia), Finland
Died October 18, 1965(1965-10-18) (aged 45)
Vietnam (Operation Shining Brass)
Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance Finland
United States of America[1]
Service/branch Finnish Army
Waffen SS
United States Army
Years of service 1938–1944 (Finnish Army)
1945 (Waffen SS)
1954–1965 (U.S. Army)
Rank Captain (Finland)
Hauptsturmführer[1] (Germany)
Major (USA)
Unit Infantry Regiment 12 (Finland)
Sondercommando Nord (Germany: January–April 1945)
Green Berets, Detachment A743, MACV-SOG
5th Special Forces Group (Airborne)

World War II

Vietnam War
Awards Mannerheim Cross
Iron Cross 2nd Class[1]
Bronze Star
Purple Heart (2)
Distinguished Flying Cross

Lauri Allan Törni (28 May 1919 – 18 October 1965), later known as Larry Thorne, was a Finnish Army captain who led an infantry company in the Finnish Winter and Continuation Wars and moved to the United States after World War II. He is known as the soldier who fought under three flags: Finnish, German (when he fought the Soviets in World War II), and American (where he was known as Larry Thorne) when he served in U.S. Army Special Forces in the Vietnam War.

Early life and military service[edit]

Christened Lauri Allan Törni, he was born in Viipuri, Viipuri Province (Karelia historical province), (Karelia), Finland, to ship captain Jalmari (Ilmari) and Rosa (née Kosonen) Törni; his sisters were Salme Lesley (b. 1920) and Kaija Iris (b. 1922).[2] Lauri was athletic and an early friend was future Olympic Boxing Gold Medalist Sten Suvio.[3] After attending business school and serving with the Civil Guard, Törni entered military service in 1938, joining the 4th Independent Jaeger Infantry Battalion stationed at Kiviniemi; as the Winter War began, his enlistment was extended and his unit confronted invading Russian troops at Rautu.[4]


World War II[edit]

During the battles at Lake Ladoga, Törni took part in the annihilation of the encircled Russian divisions in Lemetti.[5] His feats during these engagements were noticed by his commanders, and toward the end of the war, he was assigned to officer training where he was commissioned a Vänrikki (2nd lieutenant) in the reserves.[6] After the Winter War, in June 1941, Törni went to Vienna, Austria for 7 weeks of training with the Waffen SS, and returned to Finland in July; as a Finnish officer, he was recognized as a German Untersturmfuhrer.[7]

Törni (in the middle) as Finnish lieutenant

Most of Törni's reputation was based on his successful feats in the Continuation War (1941–44) between the Soviet Union and Finland. In 1943 a famous unit informally named Detachment Törni was created under his command. This was an infantry unit that penetrated deep behind enemy lines and soon enjoyed a reputation on both sides of the front for its combat effectiveness. One of Törni's men was future President of Finland, Mauno Koivisto.[8] The two served together during the Battle of Ilomantsi, which was the final Finnish-Soviet engagement of the Continuation War during July and August 1944. Koivisto participated in the battle as a soldier assigned to a reconnaissance company under the command of Captain Törni.

Törni's unit inflicted such heavy casualties on Russian units that the Soviet Army placed a bounty on his head (3 million Finnish Marks, equivalent to 650,000 USD). He was reputedly the only Finnish officer to have had a bounty. He was decorated with the Mannerheim Cross on 9 July 1944.

Törni was dissatisfied with the terms of the Finnish peace treaty with the Soviets, which required Finland to take up arms against Germany in the Lapland War. The Finnish government believed he had fought enough and discharged him. In 1945, he was recruited by a pro-German resistance movement in Finland and left for saboteur training in Germany, and to organize resistance in case Finland was occupied by the Soviet Union. He surrendered to British troops in the last stages of World War II and eventually returned to Finland in June 1945 after escaping a British POW camp.

Törni was arrested by ValPo, the Finnish national security agency, in April 1946 and tried for treason for having joined the German army.[1] After a trial from October to November, he received a 6 year sentence in January 1947. Imprisoned at the Turku provincial prison, Törni escaped in June, but was recaptured. Finnish President Juho Paasikivi granted him a pardon in December 1948.

Shoulder patch of Detachment Törni

United States[edit]

In 1949 Törni, accompanied by his wartime executive officer Holger Pitkänen, traveled to Sweden, crossing the border from Tornio to Haparanda (Haaparanta), where many inhabitants were of ethnic Finnish origin. From Haparanda Törni traveled by railroad to Stockholm where he stayed with the Baroness von Essen, who harbored many fugitive Finnish officers following the war. Pitkänen was arrested and repatriated to Finland. Remaining in Sweden, Törni fell in love with a Swedish Finn, Marja Kops, and was soon engaged to be married. Hoping to establish a career before the marriage, Törni traveled under an alias as a Swedish seaman aboard the SS Bolivia, destined for Caracas, Venezuela. In Caracas, Törni met one of his Winter War commanders, Finnish colonel Matti Aarnio, who was in exile having settled in Venezuela after the war. From Caracas, Törni hired on to a Swedish cargo ship, the MS Skagen, destined for the United States in 1950. While in the Gulf of Mexico, near Mobile, Alabama, Törni jumped overboard and swam to shore. Now a political refugee,[9] Törni traveled to New York City where he was helped by the Finnish-American community living in the Sunset Park, Brooklyn "Finntown." There he worked as a carpenter and cleaner. In 1953, Törni was granted a residence permit through an Act of Congress that was shepherded by the law firm of "Wild Bill" Donovan, the former head of the OSS, America's wartime covert military organization.

Törni joined the U.S. Army in 1954 under the provisions of the Lodge-Philbin Act and adopted the name Larry Thorne. While in the US Army, he was befriended by a group of Finnish-American officers who came to be known as "Marttinen's Men."[10] With their support, Private Thorne was soon on his way into the Special Forces. While in the Special Forces, he taught skiing, survival, mountaineering, and guerrilla tactics. In turn he attended airborne school, and advanced in rank, attaining a reserve commission as a 2nd lieutenant in 1957. He later received a regular commission and a promotion to captain in 1960. From 1958 to 1962 he served in the 10th Special Forces Group in West Germany at Bad Tölz. While there he was second in command of a search and rescue mission in the Zagros mountains of Iran, which gained him a notable reputation.

In 1962 Thorne is shown as a lieutenant with the 10th Special Forces Group in a United States Army The Big Picture episode.[11]

In November 1963 Thorne joined Special Forces unit A-734 in Vietnam and fought in the Mekong Delta, where he was twice decorated.

In 1965, Thorne transferred to Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV–SOG), a classified U.S. special operations unit focusing on unconventional warfare in Vietnam, as a military advisor. On 18 October 1965, he was supervising a clandestine mission during which his helicopter crashed in a mountainous area of Vietnam, 25 miles (40 km) from Da Nang.[12] A dispatched rescue team were unable to locate the crash site.

Shortly after his disappearance, Thorne was promoted to the rank of major.

Thorne's remains were found in 1999 and formally identified in 2003. On 26 June 2003, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, section 60, tombstone 8136,[13] along with the Vietnam casualties of the mission recovered at the crash site.[14]

Details of service[edit]

Shared grave of Thorne and fellow Vietnam casualties in Arlington National Cemetery.


In the 1990s, Törni's name became more and more well-known as a martial war hero, with numerous books being written about him.[15] He was named 52nd in the Suuret Suomalaiset listing of famous Finns; in the 2006 Suomen Sotilas (Finnish Soldier) magazine listing, he was elected most courageous of the Mannerheim Cross recipients.[16]

In Finland, the survivors, friends, and families of Detachment Törni formed the Lauri Törni Tradition Guild.[17] The Infantry Museum (Jalkaväkimuseo) in Mikkeli, Finland, has an exhibit dedicated to Törni,[18] as does the Military Museum of Finland in Helsinki.[19]

Thorne's U.S. memorial is the Larry Thorne Headquarters Building, 10th SFG(A), Fort Carson, Colorado. 10th Group honors him yearly by presenting the Larry Thorne Award to the best Operational Detachment-Alpha in the command.[20] The Special Forces Association Chapter 33 in Cleveland, Tennessee is named after him.[21] In 2010 he was named as the first Honorary Member of the United States Army Special Forces Regiment.[22]

In the book The Green Berets by Robin Moore, the "Sven Kornie" (or Captain Steve Kornie) main character in the first chapter was based on Thorne.[23]

In their 2013 book Tuntematon Lauri Törni [Unknown Lauri Törni], authors Juha Pohjonen and Oula Silvennoinen argue that Törni's conviction for treason was justified because the SS training he received at the end of World War II was provided to help achieve a National Socialist coup in Finland.[24][need quotation to verify] This view is disputed by Törni Heritage Guild members Markku Moberg and Pasi Niittymäki, who acknowledge Törni faced pressure from war and alcohol, but did not support Germany. Moberg in particular expresses disappointment in what he terms a false picture of a man who is no longer able to defend himself.[25] Finnish historian Jussi Niinistö argues that Törni's training was motivated by patriotism, not sympathy for a Nazi coup. He goes even further in challenging Pohjonen and Silvennoinen, asserting they deliberately stirred up hatred to promote sales of their book, and Niinistö also justifies the context for Torni's brief post-Continuation War German enlistment with "the fact that in Finland there was a genuine fear that Russia would occupy Finland."[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Salomaa 2000, pp. 554-7.
  2. ^ Cleverley 2008, pp. 2–3.
  3. ^ Cleverley 2008, p. 5.
  4. ^ Cleverley 2008, pp. 7, 14, 20.
  5. ^ Cleverley 2008, pp. 26–32.
  6. ^ Cleverley 2008, p. 287.
  7. ^ Cleverley 2008, pp. 55, 58.
  8. ^ Bennett, Richard M. (2003). Elite Forces. Random House. ISBN 9780753508237. 
  9. ^ Kero, Reino (2014). "Part 3: Seamen, Masses, and Individual Migrants of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: Migration from Finland to North America". In Kostianinen, Auvo. Finns in the United States: A History of Settlement, Dissent, and Integration. Michigan State University Press. p. 52. ISBN 9781628950205. 
  10. ^ Named after Colonel Alpo K. Marttinen, this group of Finnish wartime officers had immigrated to the United States and were inducted into the US Army under the Lodge Act. Several were brought into the U.S. Special Forces at its inception.
  11. ^ "Phantom Fighters. USA Special Forces Training." (TV-448) 1962 via LiveLeak.
  12. ^ LeFavor, Paul D. (2013). "Ch. 1: Special Forces History – Operation Shining Brass". In Blackburn, Michael. US Army Special Forces Small Unit Tactics Handbook. Fayetteville, NC: Blacksmith. pp. 50–51. ISBN 978-0-9895513-0-4. 
  13. ^ Maj Larry Alan Thorne at Find a Grave
  14. ^ Temmes, Asko (12 June 2003). "Legendary Finnish war hero Lauri Törni (Larry Thorne) to get final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery: Remains of victims of 1965 helicopter crash will be interred simultaneously". Helsingin Sanomat. 
  15. ^ Kivimäki, Ville (12 May 2012). "Between Defeat and Victory: Finnish memory culture of the Second World War". Scandinavian Journal of History 37 (4): 482–504. doi:10.1080/03468755.2012.680178. 
  16. ^ Kinnunen, Tiina; Jokisipilä, Markku (2011). "Part Four: Wars of Memory; Chapter 10: Shifting Images of "Our Wars": Finnish Memory Culture of World War II". In Kinnunen, Tiina; Kivimäki, Ville. Finland in World War II: History, Memory, Interpretations. Brill. p. 464. ISBN 978-9004208940. 
  17. ^ Os Lauri Törni Perinnekilta ry (Lauri Törni Tradition Guild)
  18. ^ Nargele, Dominik George (2005). Terror Survivors and Freedom Fighters. Bloomington, IL: AuthorHouse. p. 35. ISBN 9781467837439. OCLC 682903422.  Nargele, Dominik George (2009). Endless Cold War. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse. p. 42. ISBN 978-1-4389-9981-4. OCLC 620134604. 
  19. ^ Remember the Military Museum in Helsinki during your summer holiday. 14 June 2012
  20. ^ Gregory, Jim (30 June 2010). "The Ideal Green Beret". United States European Command Public Affairs Office. 
  21. ^ Special Forces Association Larry A. Thorne Memorial Chapter 33 website
  22. ^ "Lauri Törni sai kunnianosoituksen USA:n erikoisjoukoilta [Larry Thorne honored by U.S. Special Forces]". Kotimaa (in Finnish). Ilta-Sanomat. 9 September 2010. 
  23. ^ Moore's book was published the same year Thorne died. OCLC 422663434 "Kornie, originally a Finn, fought the Russians when they invaded his native land. Later he had joined the German Army and miraculously survived two years of fighting the Russians on the eastern front." (p. 30) The book was later made into a movie by the same name starring John Wayne. The Green Berets at the American Film Institute Catalog
  24. ^ Pohjonen, Juha; Silvennoinen, Oula (2013). Tuntematon Lauri Törni [Unknown Lauri Törni] (in Finnish).  (See: University of Helsinki bibliographic data). Reviewed in Määttänen, Markus (24 October 2013). "Juha Pohjonen ja Oula Silvennoinen: Tuntematon Lauri Törni". Aamulehti (in Finnish).  Also see: Pilke, Antti (20 October 2013). "Historioitsija: Lauri Törni sekaantui natsikumouksen ajamiseen Suomeen [Historian: Larry Thorne was involved in Nazism in Finland]". Uutiset (in Finnish). Yle. 
  25. ^ "Perinnekilta: Lauri Törni ei ollut natsi [Heritage Guild: Larry Thorne was not a Nazi]". Uutiset (in Finnish). Yle. 24 October 2013. 
  26. ^ Hirsimäki, Tiina (21 October 2013). "Niinistö: Lauri Törnin menneisyyttä ei ole siloteltu [Niinistö, Lauri Törni's past not smooth]". Uutiset. Yle. 


  • Cleverley, J. Michael (2008). Born a Soldier, The Times and Life of Larry Thorne. Booksurge. ISBN 978-1439214374. OCLC 299168934. 
    • In 2002 as: A Scent of Glory: The Times and Life of Larry A. Thorne. Athens: Nike Ekdotike. ISBN 9607663489. OCLC 61516770.
    • In Swedish in 2008 as: Lauri Törni Yrke Soldat. Svenskt Militärhistoriskt Bibliotek. ISBN 9789185789221.
  • Gill III, Henry A. (1998). Soldier Under Three Flags. Ventura, CA: Pathfinder Publishing. ISBN 0934793654. OCLC 38468782. 
  • Kallonen, Kari; Sarjanen, Petri (2004). Leijonamieli: 1919–1949: Mannerheim-ristin ritari kapteeni Lauri Törni alias majuri Larry Thorne [Lionheart 1919-1949: Mannerheim Cross Knight Captain Lauri Törni aka Major Larry Thorne] (in Finnish). Revontuli. ISBN 978-9525170009. OCLC 47915724. 
  • Lindholm-Ventola, Antti (1988). Lauri Törni ja hänen korpraalinsa, Sotapäiväkirjaa ja muistelmia vuosilta 1942–1944 [Lauri Törni and his Corporal, war diaries and memoirs of the years 1942-1944] (in Finnish). Helsinki: Alea-kirja. ISBN 9519429425. OCLC 57842473. 
  • Rönnquist, Lars; Vuorenmaa, Anssi (1993). Törnin Jääkärit [Törnin Light Infantry] (in Finnish). Porvoo: W. Söderström. ISBN 978-9510194485. OCLC 36900567. 
  • Salomaa, Markku; Fletcher, Roderick (translator) (2000). "Lauri Torni, soldier". In Marjomaa, Ulpu. 100 Faces from Finland: A Biographical Kaleidoscope. Helsinki: Finnish Academy of Science & Letters (Finnish Literature Society). pp. 554–557. ISBN 978-9517462150. OCLC 47683663. 
  • Tyrkkö, Jukka (1975). Lauri Törnin tarina: vapaustaistelijan vaiheita Viipurista Vietnamiin [Lauri Törni story. Freedom Fighter's steps from Vyborg to Vietnam] (in Finnish). Helsinki: Alea-kirja. ISBN 978-9519272177. OCLC 2645931. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]