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Heroism, Self-sacrifice, and Personal Bravery

Col. Leo K. Thorsness, (USAF, Ret.)

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GE Aviation Lecture Series
Presenter: Col. Leo K. Thorsness USAF (Ret.)
Thursday, March 12, 2009
8:00 pm
Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater
Museum in Washington, DC

View Archived Recording

FREE, Tickets Required

Col. Leo Thorsness, a Medal of Honor recipient, enlisted in the Air Force in 1951 and earned his commission three years later through the Aviation Cadet Program. His first operational flying was in the Republic F-84 Thunderstreak with the 31st Strategic Fighter Wing in Albany, Ga. He later flew the North American F-100 Super Sabre before transitioning to the Republic F-105 Thunderchief.

By 1966, the air war in Southeast Asia had taken on new dimensions as the Soviet Union supplied the North Vietnamese with surface-to-air missiles. The Air Force countered the buildup of SAMs with the "Wild Weasels," aircrews flying specially modified F-105s.

Thorsness was "Head Weasel" of the 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Takhli Air Base in Thailand.  On his 93rd mission, just three short of returning home, Thorsness was shot down by a MiG. He ejected at high speed, suffering severe injuries. He was captured and spent the next six years in North Vietnam prisons. Because of what his captors labeled an "uncooperative attitude," Thorsness was denied medical attention, spent a year in solitary confinement, and suffered serious back injuries under torture.

On March 4, 1973, he was released from prison on crutches. President Nixon presented him with the Medal of Honor seven months later.

Thorsness completed 23 years in the Air Force and retired in 1973 as a colonel. He later served as a Washington State Senator.

This event is made possible by the generous support of The General Electric Company.

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