How many wars could one man fight, and under how many flags does he need to carry throughout his life before we could say that he’s fought enough? The imaginary other half of this conversation answers “one,” but not if you’ll ask Lauri Törni, Larry Lane, or Larry Thorne, who all happened to be the same person. In his lifetime, he fought multiple wars under three different flags: Finnish, Nazis, and the American.
Lauri Allan Torni was born in Finland, in Viipuri, Viipuri Province. His father was ship captain Jalmari Torni, and his mother was named Rosa. He had two sisters named Salme Kyllikki and Kaija Iris. He was athletic as a youth before he attended business school and served with the Civil Guard. He was 19 when the Winter War broke in November 1939, and he enlisted and fought against the Soviet Union. His impressive ability during combat allowed him to rise quickly to the rank of captain. He took command of a group of ski troops, skiing their way into battle against the Soviet forces.
In 1942, he was severely wounded after accidentally skiing over a mine. That, of course, didn’t slow him down. During the Continuation War in 1944, he again fought and led a light infantry battalion and was even awarded the Mannerheim Cross, the equivalent of the Medal of Honor.
Finland signed the Moscow Armistice in September 1944. One of the agreements was that Finland would expel all German forces in their country. They did so, and the nation that was once their ally against the Soviets now became their enemy in what was known as the Lapland War. Unfortunately, the agreement also required Finland to demobilize its military. This left Torni unemployed in November 1944, leaving only a few left to deal with and fight against the Germans.
Torni did not exactly like the decision of expelling the Germans in favor of the Soviets, as the Germans had provided lots of aid and equipment to Finland in fighting the Russians, so when a pro-German resistance approached him in 1945, he welcomed them with open arms. Fearing that the Soviets would end up invading and occupying Finland Torni joined a volunteer unit in the German army. More specifically, he joined the Wiking Division of the Waffen SS. While in Germany he trained to be an effective saboteur. Reversals for Germany on the Eastern Front resulted in his training being cut short and now Torni found there was no easy way of getting back to Finland. So he ended up joining a Finish battalion of the SS Wiking Division which was made up of Norwegians, Swedes, Fins, and others of presumably Viking stock.
Torni, now going by the name of Lane, went back into the fight against the Soviets near Schwerin in Germany. In the end, Germany was defeated, and Lane managed to surrender to British troops rather than the Russians(and face certain death) and was sent into a prison camp in Lubeck. As unstoppable as he was, he escaped the prison and returned to Finland in June of 1945.
The Finnish government promptly arrested him for fighting for the Germans. He was charged with treason and detained. Perhaps it was the lack of security in prisons at that time, or maybe it was Lane’s determination, but he was able to escape that prison as well. He was recaptured in April 1946 and sentenced to six years in prison. He re-escaped and was recaptured for the second time. Perhaps Finland got tired of him or the mood in the country became more forgiving as the Soviets brought the iron curtain down in Eastern Europe, but President Juho Paasikivi decided to pardon him in December 1948. Lane’s name was still mud in Finland and he decided to move to Sweden the very next year and from there boarded a cargo ship to Venezuela. True to form, Torni assumed the alias of a Swedish merchant seaman and hired onto another vessel heading for the US. In the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Alabama, Torni jumped overboard and swam ashore to claim political asylum as a Finn again.
Before long he managed to get himself a permanent resident visa aided by the law firm headed by Bill Donovan. That would be the “Wild Bill” Donovan of OSS fame in WWII.
The Lodge-Philbin Act of 1950 enabled Thorne to join the US military, as this act allowed foreigners to enter the army and allowed them citizenship after honorable service of at least five years. Yearning for action and still consumed with hatred for the Soviets and communism, he joined the Special Forces as a commissioned officer, where he taught survival skills and guerrilla tactics, all that he gained from his prior experiences. He was sent to South Vietnam in 1963 during the Vietnam War, where he earned his two Purple Hearts and one Bronze Star Medal. On October 18, 1965, Thorne was in a clandestine operation as part of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies, and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) when his helicopter crashed. His body was not found initially, and they thought he either escaped or became a POW until, in 1999, a joint US-Finnish mission found his body on the crash site. He was buried and can now be found at the Arlington National Cemetery.