After the end of World War II, there were about 14 million refugees in western Europe. The military referred to them collectively as “displaced persons,” or “DPs.” At the same time, a large number of eastern Europeans had refused to return to their countries, which were now under the repressive Soviet Union. Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., a U.S. senator, who had seen how foreign units had been integrated into the German and Russian militaries, envisioned the creation of similar postwar units in West Germany.
Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., the Republican junior senator from Massachusetts, had been pushing to form a Volunteer Freedom Corps (VFC) since 1948. He believed that such a force could help the American Army defeat Communist designs in Europe.
The Lodge-Philbin Act (U.S. Public Law 597, 81st Congress, 2nd Session), commonly referred to as the Lodge Act, authorized the voluntary enlistment of 2,500 unmarried foreign national males in the U.S. Army. The Lodge Act would end up providing more than a hundred eastern European soldiers to the then-new Army Special Forces as well as Psychological Warfare units in the early to mid-1950s.
Now, even with the U.S. changing its focus from counter-terrorism missions to a near-peer conflict with China and Russia, there aren’t going to be pitched battles between massive armies as in WWII. There will be more of what we’ve seen in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and other areas of the world. Thus, irregular warfare conducted by proxies will take on an even bigger role in the future, especially in the aforementioned regions.
The realm of proxy forces is right in the wheelhouse of Special Forces, whose ability to raise, train, and lead guerrilla forces in support of U.S. objectives is unmatched. It isn’t new: SF has been doing it since the early 1950s in Europe, in the 1960s with the Hmong and Montagnard people in Southeast Asia, the mujahadeen in Afghanistan, the Nicaraguan Contras, and more recently, the Anbar Awakening in Iraq, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Iran has used more proxies than anyone else. Some of its proxies are even recruiting their own proxies, as recently seen in Iraq. Turkey has used proxy forces in Syria, Libya, and recently in the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict. Russia and China will be doing the same in the next hotspots, which appear to be in Africa as that continent heats up.
One of the pillars of Army Special Forces is their language and cultural capabilities. This enables them to insert into any foreign land, link up with groups of resistance fighters or allied armies, and battle the enemies that threaten the region. Some of that has suffered during the Global War on Terror as SF troops, which were area-oriented far from the Middle East, were forced into operating there in support of military operations. (Of course, just like what transpired during the Cold War, Special Forces will have to compete with the CIA for assets.)
Back in the 1950s, the Lodge Act soldiers were a key building block of the early SF during the Aaron Bank years and into the Vietnam war.
The television show The Big Picture from the 1950s had an episode on Lodge Act soldiers and the Cold War Communist enemy. It is an interesting look at a couple of those soldiers — if you can get past the host (a master sergeant from the Military District of Washington or MDW), with a pencil-thin mustache (Boston Blackie style) and pinky ring. You can watch the episode here.
There were several legends of SF that came about through the Lodge Act, arguably none bigger than Larry Thorne.
Thorne, born Lauri Allan Törni, was a fervent anti-communist who fought in three different armies against communism. During the Russian invasion of Finland of 1939-1940, more commonly known as the Winter War, Thorne was a member of the Finnish Alpine Ski Troops, a SOF unit that operated behind enemy lines, carrying all of their supplies either on their backs or on sleds.
In 1941, Thorne volunteered to fight for the Germans in the Waffen-SS against the Soviets. He fought for a year, before returning to the Finnish military to continue his fight against the Soviet communist forces. His unit, experts at guerrilla warfare, became known as Detachment Törni. They were so successful, the Soviets put a bounty of three million Finnish Marks on his head. He was awarded the Finnish equivalent of the Medal of Honor (Knight of the Mannerheim Cross).
He was briefly imprisoned for service in the Nazi army, escaped, and boarded a ship for Venezuela that was diverted to the U.S. Thorne lived in NYC, working as a carpenter but enlisted in the U.S. Army under the Lodge Act using the name Larry Thorne.
He was an alpine instructor and by 1960 was commissioned as a lieutenant in the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 10th SFG(A) at Bad Tölz, Germany. Thorne and an SF A-Team conducted a body recovery and secured secret documents in 1962 when a U.S. Air Force C-130 crashed in the Zagros Mountains, a 14,000-foot mountain range that rests between the Iran-Soviet border.
Vietnam would be his next… and last war. Thorne, by then a captain commanding A-734 of the 7th Special Forces Group, was among the very first MACV SOG troops in Southeast Asia. While conducting a reconnaissance mission into Laos on October 18, 1965, Thorne’s helicopter crashed due to bad weather. His remains weren’t found until 1999. States. After being identified he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery on June 26, 2003.
Another SF legendary operator was Henryk Szarek, known as “Frenchy.” He was a Polish native who served in five armies, all fighting communism.
“I hated the Russians then… Nazi brutality was mild compared to what I had seen from the Russians.” Szarek said according to retired SF officer Bob Seals, who had researched his history.
Szarek served in the Polish army, was pressed into the German Army (as a barber), then served with the British Army’s II Corps (Polish), the French Foreign Legion (twice), as a paratrooper fighting in Algeria, and made combat jumps in Vietnam in 1950. He later learned of the Lodge Act and joined the American Army. He volunteered for airborne duty and after American jump school, he joined the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. As he said, “My French airborne wings got me a lot of pushups.”
He too joined Special Forces and helped the 10th SFG (A) set up E&E (escape and evasion) nets, something that would be needed if war with the Soviets ever broke out. Szarek died in 2011 and was buried in Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemetery.
A good part of “Detachment A” in Berlin was initially composed of Lodge Act soldiers. A very detailed and excellent look at Det-A can be read here. While technically not part of the Lodge Act, Ludwig Faistenhammer’s story was typical of naturalized Americans who rose to prominence in Special Forces. Born in Germany, Faistenhammer was so popular as an SF officer with the local Germans that he was nearly elected mayor of Bad Tölz, and in the end, was only stopped by the intervention of the U.S. 7th Army.
Faistenhammer rose to be a lieutenant-colonel during the Vietnam war. Jim Morris’s outstanding book War Story has a long passage dedicated to him.
Despite the Lodge Act’s short duration, the impact of the Europeans who earned their Green Berets and American citizenship is a prime example of how the U.S. can prepare for global conflicts in the future. There is a lack of knowledge about other cultures and languages in certain parts of the world, especially due to SF units being pressed into duty in the Middle East away from their assigned area of operations.
In Europe, by dusting off an old but effective concept, teams could be created similar to the OSS Jedburgh teams. For these, NATO could draw personnel from different countries to comprise mission-specific Special Operations teams from within the command.
But in regions such as Africa, it would be much more effective to recruit, train, and employ native speakers to join Special Forces and create for them a path to American citizenship. These operators would know the language, culture, and immediately be able to build the rapport necessary for mission success.
The military tried and failed once already in resurrecting the Lodge Act with the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program (MAVNI), whereby select immigrants with certain critical skills are recruited into the U.S. military. That program, which began in 2008, was frozen in 2016. The same or a similar program for Special Forces needs to be looked at as a possible way to prepare for the next threat.
SOFREP would like to thank Stu Bradin (SF colonel retired) and retired SF CSM Rick Lamb for much of the background information on some of the Lodge Act SF troops. Although CSM Lamb acknowledges the MAVNI program’s shortcomings he believes that something like it needs to be instituted.
“There was a recent program called MAVNI that didn’t make it… I don’t know why. I assume it was deemed too hard and didn’t produce enough recruits. If they ran it like the initial recruitment of Indig Forces going into Syria, it was a clown show! Sadly, the failure of MAVNI will be an easy excuse to do nothing,” he said in an email to SOFREP.
“I would argue that we need something like this again for Asia… and beyond. I think we’d get a lot of our partners, frustrated with [a] lack of training, promotion, and resources within their nations’ services to join… It’s also a credible way to earn citizenship,” he added.