On this day: October 18th

1965—Before Special Forces Captain Larry Thorne was tragically killed in combat in Vietnam, he had already lived a legendary career spanning multiple continents, careers, nations, and wars.

Born Lauri Allan Törni in Finland, as a young man Thorne led Finnish soldiers in their war against the Soviet Union in 1939-1940, eventually joining the Waffen SS as an officer in order to continue to fight the Soviets. During his time in WWII, Thorne developed and executed unconventional warfare doctrine which he would use later on during his time in the American Special Forces.

After immigrating to the U.S. and enlisting in the Army, he rose through the ranks and joined the Special Forces, eventually leading a team in Vietnam as part of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam, Studies and Observation Group (MACV-SOG). It was there on October 18th, 1965, that Thorne was killed in combat. His remains were not found until 1999, and he is now interned at Arlington National Cemetery. His story is told in two SOFREP articles. His exploits in Vietnam are quoted below.

“In February 1965, then Captain Larry Thorne returned to Long Thanh, South Vietnam for his second tour of duty. While assigned to Headquarters, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam; Captain Thorne was instrumental in establishing the standard operating procedures employed by the fledgling Studies and Observation Group, better known by its acronym “MACV-SOG.” MACV-SOG was a joint service unconventional warfare task force engaged in highly classified operations throughout Southeast Asia. The 5th Special Forces Group channeled personnel into MACV-SOG (although it was not a Special Forces unit) through Special Operations Augmentation (SOA), which provided their “cover” while under secret orders to MACV-SOG. The teams performed deep penetration missions of strategic reconnaissance and interdiction that were called, depending on the location and time frame, “Shining Brass” “Daniel Boone,” “Salem House” or “Prairie Fire” missions.

When North Vietnam began to increase its military strength in South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops again intruded on neutral Laos for sanctuary, as the Viet Minh had done during the war with the French some years before. This border road was used by the Communists to transport weapons, supplies and troops from North Vietnam into South Vietnam, and was frequently no more than a path cut through the jungle-covered mountains. U.S. forces used all assets available to them to stop this flow of men and supplies from moving south into the war zone.

In September 1965, the infiltration of reconnaissance teams into Laos, Codenamed: “Shining Brass,” was approved, but severe limitations by Washington restricted the teams to penetrate no deeper than 50 kilometers into Laos. In case the team was captured, the cover story derived for the first Shining Brass mission was that “they were looking for a crashed US Air Force C-123 cargo aircraft that was lost near the South Vietnamese/Lao border.” Further, in conjunction with planning cross-border missions, Larry Thorne flew as the observer for many intelligence gathering reconnaissance missions over eastern Laos.

Because of this, he was very familiar with the entire area in which MACV-SOG’s teams would be operating.