Lenny Kravitz's Hero Uncle and Other Lesser Known American Heroes
Lenny Kravitz’s Hero Uncle and Other Lesser Known American Heroes

Lenny Kravitz’s Hero Uncle and Other Lesser Known American Heroes

Khalid Elhassan - August 18, 2020

Lenny Kravitz’s Hero Uncle and Other Lesser Known American Heroes
Lauri Torni in Finnish custody after the war. Yle

4. From National Hero to Political Liability

While Finland had been formally at war, Torni was a national hero. However, his subsequent actions fighting for Germany after his country had concluded a peace treaty made him a political liability. So the Finnish government arrested him when he returned home. He escaped, but was rearrested in 1946, and tried for treason. In January, 1947, he was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison.

Torni escaped once again, but was recaptured once more and returned to prison, before he was eventually pardoned in late 1948. Upon regaining his freedom, Torni got a job on a Swedish cargo ship. When it sailed near Mobile, Alabama, he jumped overboard and swam to shore. He claimed political asylum in the US, and with the help of former OSS chief William Donovan, he got a residency permit.

Lenny Kravitz’s Hero Uncle and Other Lesser Known American Heroes
Larry Thorne in American uniform. Badass of the Week

3. From the SS to the Green Berets

Torni settled in with the Finnish migrant community in Brooklyn, and got a job as a carpenter and cleaner. Then in 1954, he enlisted in the US Army. He anglicized his name from Lauri Torni to Larry Thorne, and with his experience and track record in irregular warfare, he soon ended up in the Special Forces.

It seemed as if Father Time was unable to catch up with Larry Thorne. Once he made his way into the Green Berets, he earned a reputation in the Special Forces community as one of its fittest and toughest officers. Indeed, his physical fitness was such that he frequently outperformed other men half his age. One commanding officer effused about him in an evaluation, and wrote: “I have not known any officer in his grade to whom he can be compared. He is over forty years old, but has the physical ability of a person of twenty-five.

Lenny Kravitz’s Hero Uncle and Other Lesser Known American Heroes
Larry Thorne, far left, shortly before his final flight. J Michael Cleverly

2. End of the Road in Vietnam

Larry Thorne trained NATO forces in West Germany, and ran a reconnaissance and sabotage school. In the late 1950s, he earned accolades for his role in a search and rescue mission in Iran’s Zagros Mountains. He deployed to Vietnam in 1963, as an adviser to South Vietnamese forces in the Mekong Delta, and earned a Bronze Star for valor plus two Purple Hearts. He returned to Vietnam for a second tour in 1965, and ended up with the Studies and Observations Group (SOG) – an unconventional special warfare unit.

On October 18th, 1965, Captain Larry Thorne was overseeing an operation to identify Viet Cong positions on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, when his helicopter vanished in a mountainous area 25 miles from Da Nang. Rescue and recovery teams were unable to locate the chopper. Soon after his disappearance, he was posthumously promoted to major, was and awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross and Legion of Merit. Larry Thorne was 46 when his helicopter disappeared. Many who knew him had trouble believing that such a seemingly indestructible hero had actually died.

Lenny Kravitz’s Hero Uncle and Other Lesser Known American Heroes
Tombstone of Larry Thorne and his South Vietnamese comrades in Arlington National Cemetery. Wikimedia

1. The Only SS Member Buried in Arlington National Cemetery

In the years after Larry Thorne’s disappearance, there was considerable speculation about his fate. Some figured that the legendry hero had survived and walked away, while others suspected that he had been captured and finally turned over to the Soviets, who locked him up somewhere. NVA defectors were shown photos of Thorne, to find out if any recognized him. On the anniversary of his disappearance every year thereafter, Thorne’s comrades would down a toast in his honor, “wherever he may be“.

In 1999, Thorne’s downed helicopter was finally located. His remains were intermingled with those of three South Vietnamese servicemen who had been with him in the chopper. Following a ceremony in Hanoi, attended by Secretary of State Madeline Albright, the remains were sent to the US. In 2003, the remains were formally identified as those of Thorne. He was memorialized on the Vietnam Wall, and on June 26th, 2003, Major Larry Allan Thorne, along with the South Vietnamese servicemen who had died with him, were buried in Arlington National Cemetery under a single headstone. He is the only former Waffen-SS member to end up in America’s most hallowed burial grounds.

_________________

Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Army News Service, March 18th, 2014 – Lenny Kravitz Honors Uncle, Medal of Honor Recipient

Badass of the Week – Larry Thorne

Business Insider, July 2nd, 2015 – The Crazy Story of the Man Who Fought For Finland, the Nazis, and US Army Special Forces

Cleverly, Michael J. – Born a Soldier: The Times and Life of Larry A Thorne (2008)

El Paso Herald Post, September 26th, 2017 – El Paso World War I Hero: Private Marcelino Serna

El Paso Times, May 29th, 2016 – Marcelino Serna, American Hero

Encyclopedia Britannica – Alvin York, United States Military Hero

Encyclopedia Britannica – Culper Spy Ring

New York Times, September 3rd, 1964 – Sergeant York, War Hero, Dies; Killed 25 Germans and Captured 132

New York Times, December 15th, 1985 – Remembering a Master Spy at Home

New York Times, November 13th, 2017 – When New York City Was a (Literal) Battlefield

Study.Com – The Role of New York in the American Revolution

Tablet Magazine – Lenny Kravitz’s Jewish Uncle Honored: Private First Class Leonard M. Kravitz Awarded Posthumous Medal of Honor

Tablet Magazine – Obama to Award Jewish Veterans Posthumous Medal of Honor

Texas State Historical Association – Serna, Marcelino

Vintage News – The Most Decorated US WWI Veteran From Texas Was Actually a Mexican Immigrant

War History Online – The US Special Forces Major Who Fought in the SS

Wikipedia – Culper Spy Ring

Wikipedia – Lauri Torni

Wikipedia – Marcelino Serna

Advertisement