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Leo Thorsness (1932 - 2017)

Photo by Henry Hancock

Leo Thorsness (1932 - 2017)

Leo Thorsness, a Medal of Honor recipient for his heroism in the Vietnam War, died Tuesday, May 2, 2017, according to multiple news sources. He was 85.

The Congressional Medal of Honor Society announced that Thorsness died in St. Augustine, Florida.

Thorsness grew up in Minnesota and was an Eagle Scout. He enlisted in the Air Force in 1951 when he was 19. He received his wings as an Air Force pilot three years later. He became a fighter pilot and completed F-105 “Wild Weasel” training. He was assigned to Vietnam to locate and destroy surface-to-air missile sites.

In April 1967, Thorsness was a pilot on a mission to take out a surface-to-air missile site. One of the fighter planes on that mission was hit, and two crewmen had to eject from the plane. Thorsness engaged four enemy planes, damaging one of them and driving the four planes away. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery.

Less than two weeks after his heroism, Thorsness was shot down over North Vietnam and spent six years as a prisoner of war at the Hoa Lo Prison, nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton. His cellmate was John McCain, currently a member of the U.S. Senate representing Arizona.

Thorsness was released March 4, 1973. He was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Richard M. Nixon at a White House ceremony Oct. 15, 1973. He retired from the Air Force in 1973 with the rank of colonel.

He ran for U.S. Senate in South Dakota in 1974, losing to George McGovern. He served as a state senator in Washington state from 1988 to 1992. Later, he moved to Alabama.

Huntsville, Alabama, Mayor Tommy Battle, who worked with Thorsness, expressed his condolences.

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