On Valentine’s Day, when the world was hearing about the terrible tragedy in a Florida school, a ceremony and a Missing Man Formation fly over was happening for a hero at Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C. The ashes of a brave military veteran were being laid to rest.
Sometimes we have to stop and think of those who have been extraordinarily brave as they paid a price for FREEDOM. This is why I want to write about Col. Leo K. Thorsness, a recipient of the Medal of Honor in the U.S.A.
The Medal of Honor is presented by the President of the United States for valor in service to his country. Col. Leo K. Thorsness received that honor and what made it extremely special to him was that he was nominated for the honor by his peers.
This is his story as a patriot and POW (Prisoner of War) who spent years of torture and abuse at the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War. Because he understood personally what a POW goes through, he spoke out that President Trump owed all prisoners of war an apology when the President said, concerning Senator John McCain, that he “liked those who weren’t captured.”
COL. LEO K. THORSNESS
“Col. Thorsness joined the Air Force in 1952 and was sent to Vietnam in 1966 as a member of a squadron known as the Wild Weasels, whose mission was to destroy surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) based in North Vietnam. On April 19, 1967, Col. Thorsness was the lead pilot in a strike force of four U.S. F-105 fighter-bombers attacking SAM positions near Hanoi. He and his electronic warfare officer, Harold Johnson, knocked out one site with a missile and scored a direct hit on another with bombs. But they soon realized that one plane in their group had been hit, and the crew members had ejected. While flying in circles over the parachuting airmen, Col Thorsness spotted an enemy MiG-17 fighter jet and shot it down. As U.S. rescue helicopters approached, Col Thorsness heard through his radio that another MiG formation was nearby. Despite being low on fuel and ammunition, he flew through anti-aircraft fire and single-handedly engaged four MiGs in aerial combat for 50 minutes. Col Thorsness pursued one MiG, “flying right up his tailpipe,” he said later, and damaged it with cannon fire. Flying as low as 50 feet above the ground and as fast as 900 MPH, he chased the other MiGs from the area. As he returned to his base, he was about to refuel from an airborne tanker when he learned that another F-105 in his group was in even greater need of fuel. Col. Thorsness let the other plane go to the tanker, hoping he could glide back to safety on fumes. When he touched down, his fuel tanks were empty.
Eleven days later, on April 30,1967, Col Thorsness was shot down over North Vietnam on this 93rd mission. Ejecting from his plane at 600 mph, he suffered serious leg injuries before he and Johnson were taken prisoner. For the first year, Col Thorsness was held in solitary confinement and tortured almost every day. His back was broken in four places. Another Air Force pilot, Fred V. Cherry, was tortured for teaching Col. Thorsness and other POWs a system of communication by tapping on walls. While at the Hanoi Hilton, Col Thorsness shared a tiny cell with John McCain and two other men. “Other than when they took you out to beat you or interrogate you, you were together 24 hours a day,” Col. Thorsness told the Huntsville Times in Alabama in 2008. “You get to know each other so well, talking about your families, failures, weaknesses, hopes and dreams, everything.” He and McCain were released in 1973. Later that year, Col Thorsness received the Medal of Honor from President Richard M. Nixon; he then retired from the military…While at the Hanoi Hilton, Col. Thorsness and other prisoners measured their cell, calculating that one mile equaled 225 laps around the cell’s 23-foot circumference. By walking 60 miles a week, Col Thorsness figured that he could cover the distance to the United States – 10,000 miles – in about three years. “All of a sudden it became 100% real to us,” he said in 1992. “If we could walk home in our cell, we knew whatever had to happen in the world would happen, and we really would get home.” Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Leo K. Thorsness died May 2, 2017. He was 85. Survivors include his wife since 1953, the former Gayle Anderson; a daughter; and two grandchildren. (taken in part from a comment on video shown below)
VIDEO INTERVIEW OF COL. LEO K. THORSNESS (turn up sound)
What is a Missing Man Formation?
The missing man formation (sometimes instead flyby or flypast) is an aerial salute performed as part of a flypast of aircraft at a funeral or memorial event, typically in memory of a fallen pilot, a well-known military service member or veteran, or a well-known political figure. Several variants of the formation are seen. The formation most commonly used in the United States is based on the”finger-four” aircraft combat formation composed of two pairs of aircraft. The aircraft fly in a V-shape with the flight leader at the point and his wingman on his left. The second element leader and his wingman fly to his right. The formation flies over the ceremony low enough to be clearly seen and the second element leader abruptly pulls up out of the formation while the rest of the formation continues in level flight until all aircraft are out of sight. In an older variant, the formation is flown with the second element leader position conspicuously empty. In another variation, the flight approaches from the south, preferably near sundown, and one of the aircraft will suddenly split off to the west, flying into the sunset. In all cases, the aircraft performing the pull-up, split off, or missing from the formation, is honoring the person (or persons) who has died, and it represents their departure. (from Wikipedia)
We agree with Col. Thorsness that our most precious commodity in this country is FREEDOM.
Below is a video example of the Missing Man Fly Over at Arlington Cemetery
My husband was a chaplain in the Navy for many years. He is still called upon to do military funerals and this means a great deal to him. He often stops by a table in a restaurant and thanks an older veteran or a young service man for their “service to our country”. A dear friend of ours has served on a number of tours to Afghanistan and other areas of the world as a Christian chaplain. Some chaplains, however, who served faithfully and given more than could be expected, have never received the highest honor our nation has to offer, but one will finally have that honor….62 years late. ..thanks to fellow soldiers who are senior citizens now.
Writings by Sharon Cohen and Lawrence Grayson tells us the story of Chaplain Emil Kapaun in what is called the “Forgotten War”…Korea. In the light of recent events of North Korea’s threats, it would be good to not forget what our troops suffered there and sacrificed to make what is now South Korea the vibrant nation that it is today.
“On Easter morning, March 25, 1951, the Catholic priest mounted the steps of a partially destroyed church, and turned to face his congregation, some 60 men – gaunt, foul-smelling, in tattered clothing.
Fr. Emil Kapaun raised a small, homemade, wooden cross to begin a prayer service, led the men in the Rosary, heard the confessions of the Catholics, and performed a Baptism. Then, he wept because there was no bread or wine to consecrate so that the men could receive the Eucharist.”
After all these years, with pressure on Washington and so many hundreds of Korean veterans dying, the honor due this chaplain is finally happening.
This brave chaplain will finally receive this country’s Medal of Honor. Two lieutenants who served with him, now age 85 and 86, will join in the ceremony to honor Chaplain Kapaun. “What he did and what he meant is so important,” Dowe says. “It’s worth finding a way to carry that forward. … I can only say I’m glad it’s happening. It’s a shame it couldn’t have been sooner.”