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Leo Thorsness

Colonel (Ret.) Leo K. Thorsness flew 92 Republic F-105F Wild Weasel missions and was awarded America’s highest military decoration before he was shot down and taken prisoner in North Vietnam. In 1966, the air war in Southeast Asia took on a new dimension as the Soviet Union supplied the North Vietnamese with surface-to-air missiles (SAM). In October 1966, Thorsness was assigned to the 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Takhli, Thailand. Over a period of six months, he not only attacked antiaircraft defenses, successfully evading 53 SAMs, but also challenged enemy MiG aircraft that patrolled the sky. On April 30, 1967, Thorsness was shot down and captured by the North Vietnamese. For almost six years, he was a prisoner of war (POW) in camps such as the infamous, “Hanoi Hilton,” and “Heartbreak Hotel.” In 1973, upon his return home, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Thorsness completed 23 years in the Air Force and retired as a colonel in 1973 after accumulating nearly 5,000 flying hours. Colonel Thorsness later served as a Washington State Senator from 1988 to 1992, during which time he urged the federal government to release information about 30,000 soldiers listed as either POW or missing in action in conflicts dating back to World War II. Thorsness now serves on the board of directors for the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. He and his wife, Gaylee have one daughter and live in Madison, Alabama.