Larry Thorne: Finnish Officer, Nazi Soldier, US Green Beret

Larry Thorne was born Lauri Allan Törni  in the Viipuri Province of Finland on May 28th, 1919.

In 1938, Törni joined the military and was assigned to the 4th Independent Jaeger Infantry Battalion. From 1939 to 1940 he saw action against the Soviets in the Winter War, where he was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant.

After Finland allied itself with Nazi Germany in 1940, Törni went to Vienna and trained with Hitler’s elite and dreaded Waffen-SS. He was given the rank of SS-Untersturmführer, a rank equivalent to his Finnish Army rank.larry thorne

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Larry Thorne as an Officer in the Finnish Army

In 1941, Törni used his military skill in the Continuation War between Finland and Russia. In 1943, he was given command of his own unit, Detachment Törni, which worked behind enemy lines and gained a reputation for its combat effectiveness. For his bravery and prowess in battle, Törni was awarded Finland’s highest military honor, the Mannerheim Cross. Aware of his fearsome reputation, the Soviets put a 3,000,000 Finnish Mark price on his head.

Törni led his unit until the Continuation War ended in 1944, at one time commanding a young Mauno Koivisto, a future President of Finland. With the Soviet-Finnish Peace agreement signed, the Finnish Army was demobilized and its soldiers sent home. Törni decided to keep fighting and volunteered for the Waffen-SS.

By 1945, realizing the war was lost; Törni made his way west and surrendered to the British.  He soon grew tired of life as a British POW and escaped. Back in Finland, Törni tried to rejoin his family but was arrested by the Finnish Police. He escaped but was re-arrested and tried for treason for joining the German military. In January 1947, he was sentenced to six years in prison but was released one year later after receiving a Presidential Pardon.

In 1949, with his wartime executive officer, Holger Pitkänen, Törni went to Sweden, crossing the border at Haparanda. From Haparanda, he went by rail to Stockholm and stayed with the Baroness von Essen, who kept many fugitive Finnish officers after the war. Although Pitkänen was arrested and repatriated to Finland, Törni remained in Sweden.

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Larry Thorne (center) during Finland’s Continuation War with Russia

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Larry Thorne in Germany’s Waffen-SS

In 1950, Törni posed as a Swedish seaman on the SS Bolivia and sailed for Caracas, Venezuela. From Caracas, Törni crewed on the MS Skagen, a Swedish cargo ship bound for the United States. Törni jumped ship near Mobile, Alabama and traveled to New York City where he was aided by the Finnish-American community in Brooklyn and worked as a carpenter and cleaner.

In 1953, by an Act of Congress, Törni was given a residence permit through the help of the law firm of “Wild Bill” Donovan, former head of the Office of Strategic Services or OSS. In 1954, he joined the US Army as a Private and changed his name to Larry Thorne. He befriended other Finnish men serving in the US Army and joined the Special Forces. Thorne became a qualified paratrooper and taught skiing, survival, mountaineering, and guerrilla tactics. He was commissioned an officer in 1957.

By 1960, Larry Thorne was a Captain in the 10th Special Forces Group in Bad Tölz, Germany, where the Germans had trained their SS men almost twenty years before. In 1962, he led a Special Forces team to recover bodies and classified documents from a crashed US airplane in Iran’s Zagros Mountains.

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US Army Captain Larry Thorne

In November 1963, Thorne was sent to South Vietnam with Special Forces Detachment A-734. While there, he received two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star Medal for valor. He served a second tour in Vietnam with the 5th Special Forces Group. On 18 October 1965, while on a clandestine mission, his helicopter crashed in the mountains killing all on board. Larry Thorne’s body was not recovered until 1999. Formally identified in 2003, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

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Larry Thorne (far left) in Vietnam with the US Special Forces

Lauri Allan Törni was a Finnish Hero, Waffen-SS man and a US Green Beret. He was highly decorated by the Finnish, German and American governments. He lived a life that a Hollywood screenwriter would be hard pressed to make up and died doing what he loved, being a soldier.

For More on Larry Thorne Check Out:

Born a Soldier: The Times and Life of Larry A Thorne

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