Lauri Allan Törni, also known as Larry Thorne, was a Finnish war hero who fought for Finland, United States, and Germany. He led an infantry company as a Finnish Army captain in fighting the Soviet Union in the Winter War, a military conflict that began following the Soviet invasion of Finland. He also fought in such capacity in the Continuation Wars, a conflict fought against the Soviet Union by co-belligerents Finland and Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Following the Second World War he went to the US where he joined the United States Army Special Forces and fought in the Vietnam War. Considered a national hero of Finland, this war veteran lost his life in the Vietnam War. He received several military awards and decorations for his valor and contributions in the wars. These include Finnish decoration Mannerheim Cross; German decoration Iron Cross 2nd Class; and United States Army decorations and medals Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star and Purple Heart among others.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born on May 28, 1919, in Viipuri, Finland in the family of Jalmari (Ilmari) Törni, a ship captain, and his wife Rosa (née Kosonen). He had two younger sisters Salme Kyllikki and Kaija Iris.
Törni studied at a business school and served the voluntary militia White Guard before getting enlisted in military service in 1938. He joined the 4th Independent Jaeger Infantry Battalion that was stationed at a rural locality in Priozersky District, Leningrad Oblast called Kiviniemi.
His enlistment was extended with the onset of the Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland that commenced on November 30, 1939, following invasion of the Soviets in Finland. His unit was assigned to fight the invading Soviet troops at the rural locality of Rautu in Priozersky District.
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Role of TÃ¶rni During the Second World War
Törni was involved in destructing the encircled Soviet divisions in Lemetti during the Lake Ladoga battles. By the end of the war he was designated to officer training and commissioned the military rank of Vänrikki (2nd lieutenant) in the reserves.
In June 1941 following the end of Winter War Törni underwent a seven weeks training with armed wing of the Nazi Party's SS organization the Waffen-SS in Vienna, Austria before returning to Finland in July that year. Törni, an officer of the Finnish Army received paramilitary rank of Untersturmführer of the German Schutzstaffel (SS).
His successful efforts during the Continuation War, a conflict fought against the Soviet Union by co-belligerents Finland and Nazi Germany from June 25, 1941 to September 19, 1944 earned him much repute.
He led an infantry unit in 1943, named informally as Detachment Törni that succeeded in permeating way beyond enemy lines earning kudos for its efforts.
On July 9, 1944, he was bestowed with the most prestigious Finnish military decoration, the Mannerheim Cross.
The Battle of Ilomantsi fought between Finland and the Soviet Union from July 26, 1944 to August 13 of that year marking the last Finnish-Soviet combat of the Continuation War saw Törni commanding a reconnaissance company. One of the men serving under his command was the future President of Finland Mauno Koivisto. The Soviet units faced heavy casualties from Törni's unit. Such adversities led the Soviet Army to declare a reward of 3,000,000 Finnish marks on Törni's head.
The Moscow Armistice signed between the Soviet Union and the UK on one side and Finland on the other required Finland to break diplomatic ties with Germany and remove any German troop from Finland thus leading to the Lapland War between Finland and Nazi Germany from September 15, 1944 to April 27, 1945. Meanwhile in November 1944, Törni became unemployed due to demobilisation of most of the Finnish Army.
He was inducted by a pro-German resistance movement in Finland in January 1945 following which he went to Germany for saboteur training. Unable to go to Finland, Törni became part of a German unit in fighting the Soviet troops near Schwerin, Germany.
The last phase of Second World War saw him surrendering to the US and the UK troops; however he thrived in fleeing a British prisoner of war camp in Lübeck, Germany and returned to Finland in June 1945.
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The Finnish state police, Valpo, arrested him for joining the German army but he managed to escape. Re-arrested in April 1946, he faced trial for treason and was given six-year prison term in January 1947. In June that year he fled from the Turku provincial prison only to be recaptured and sent to the Riihimäki State Prison. In December 1948, he was granted a pardon by the Finnish President Juho Paasikivi.
Service to the US Army & Death
Törni landed in the US as a political refugee sometime in the 1950s and started working as a cleaner and carpenter. He was granted a residence permit in 1953 via an Act of Congress.
In 1954 he joined the US Army under the provisions of the US federal law called the Lodge-Philbin Act.
Eventually he became part of the United States Army Special Forces where he learnt guerrilla tactics, skiing, mountaineering and survival skills. He attended the United States Army Airborne School that gives basic paratrooper training to the US armed forces as also the United States Army's Officer Candidate School (OCS). In 1957 he garnered the rank of 1st lieutenant in the United States Army Signal Corps (USASC).
He served the 10th Special Forces Group from 1958 to 1962 in the town of Bad Tölz in West Germany and earned repute becoming part of a search and recovery mission in capacity of second in command.
In November 1963, he was deployed in South Vietnam to back the Army of the Republic of Vietnam in the ongoing Vietnam War.
He again toured Vietnam with the 5th Special Forces Group in February 1965 and was commissioned as a military advisor to Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV–SOG).
While overseeing a covert operation to track down and destroy Viet Cong turnaround points along Ho Chi Minh trail with airstrikes, the Republic of Vietnam Air Force CH-34 helicopter of Törni crashed in a hilly area of Vietnam’s Phước Sơn District in Quảng Nam Province on October 18, 1965. Although a rescue operation was conducted the crash site could not be located.
Following his disappearance, Törni was ranked a Major and awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Legion of Merit posthumously.
A Finnish and Joint Task Force-Full Accounting team later discovered his remains in 1999 which were sent back to the US. His remains were later formally identified in 2003 and interred at Arlington National Cemetery, in Virginia, US on June 26 that year.
Personal Life & Legacy
He fell in love in Sweden with a Swedish Finn lady, Marja Kops, whom he got engaged to and had plans for marriage.
Several books were written on this war hero whose name finds place on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Line 126 of Panel 02E.
The Detachment Törni survivors, families and friends created Lauri Törni Tradition Guild in Finland. The annual Larry Thorne Award given to the best Operational Detachment-Alpha in the command is presented in his honour.
His name was mentioned as the first Honorary Member of the United States Army Special Forces Regiment in 2010 while his name was included in the Commando Hall of Honor of the United States Special Operations Command in 2011. The Chapter 33 of Special Forces Association in Cleveland, Tennessee is also named after Törni. An exhibit is dedicated to him in both the Military Museum of Finland in Helsinki and the Infantry Museum (Jalkaväkimuseo) in Mikkeli in Finland.