Skip to main content

The only MN native wearing a Congressional Medal of Honor left us this week

Walnut Grove native Leo Thorsness died at age 85.

Air Force Lt. Col. Leo Thorsness, who was the only living Minnesota recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, died this week at age 85.

During a visit to his hometown last year Thorsness told people in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, the memories of his boyhood there helped him get through his six years at the "Hanoi Hilton," the St. James Plaindealer reported.

His death on Monday was announced by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. His wife told the New York Times Thorsness died of leukemia at the Mayo Clinic in Florida.

His Medal of Honor citation recognizes Thorsness "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty." Thorsness, who was a Major at the time, was honored for a dangerous flight into enemy territory on low fuel to rescue fellow airmen whose plane had been downed.

His Prisoner of War years

Less than two weeks after his gallant and intrepid actions, Thorsness himself was shot down during his 93rd mission over North Vietnam.

After his capture on April 30, 1967, he was taken to Hỏa Lò prison – a notorious prisoner of war camp and torture center that American service members had sarcastically nicknamed the "Hanoi Hilton."

One of Thorsness' cellmates there was John McCain. The U.S. Senator from Arizona issued a statement Wednesday that says in part: "One of the greatest honors of my life was serving with Leo, a man whose service exemplified selfless duty and devotion to others."

Walnut Grove memories

Walnut Grove renamed a park in honor of Thorsness last fall. During his remarks Thorsness called his youth in the town "wholesome" and said becoming an Eagle Scout in 1947 was a highlight, the Plaindealer reported.

He also shared how that came up again more than two decades later in Hanoi, where prisoners had just enough space beneath their cell doors to tap out messages in code:

"We decided to find out how many Eagle Scouts there were there. Out of the 100 or 150 cells, five of us were Eagle Scouts. After that, the others would say, ‘Leo, I didn’t know you were an Eagle Scout.’ That was important. Even to people in the prison. It’s something that sticks with you all of your life," Thorsness said.

Thorsness was among 350 prisoners who were finally released from North Vietnam in March of 1973, nearly six years after he was captured.

Next Up

Timothy William Tuit

2 people plead guilty in fatal Dakota County home invasion

Two others charged in the incident will go to trial next year.

south lake minnetonka police department

25-year-old arrested after multi-city police chase in western suburbs

Police were called for a welfare check but learned it was a domestic violence incident.

Screen Shot 2021-12-02 at 8.34.54 AM

After getting COVID, Harrison Smith still not considering vaccine

The Vikings safety says he doesn't plan on getting vaccinated.


First omicron variant COVID case detected in MN

The individual is an adult male who lives in Hennepin County and had recently traveled.

wright county Sheriff Sean Deringer

Minnesota sheriff bashes MPD, 'disgusted' by officers' actions

The sheriff said he will no longer defend the Minneapolis Police Department.

Screen Shot 2021-12-02 at 7.59.52 AM

More than 2 years after announcing, Duck Donuts finally opens at MOA

The grand opening of the new location took place Wednesday.

unsplash - school girl students

St. Paul is closing 6 schools amid declining enrollment

The board revised the plan after the school communities voiced concerns.

Karl-Anthony Towns

X-rays negative after Karl-Anthony Towns takes scary fall

Towns crashed hard to the ground late in the game Wednesday night.

Minneapolis police

2 more homicides push Minneapolis closer to record set in 1995

The deadly shootings happened on the city's North Side Wednesday night.

Karl-Anthony Towns

KAT sets a franchise record, leaves early in loss to Wizards

Towns fell on his back in the final minutes of a loss in Washington.


73 years later, a World War II soldier is awarded his medals

His remains are headed home after they were identified in an unmarked grave.

73 years later, a World War II soldier is awarded his medals

His remains are headed home after they were identified in an unmarked grave.

Dozens of Medal of Honor recipients are in MN this week

More than half of America's living Medal of Honor recipients plan to be at the Medal of Honor Convention in the Twin Cities.

A tiny Minnesota town is getting its war hero back

There'll be a funeral for him more than 75 years after he died.

A tiny Minnesota town is getting its war hero back

There'll be a funeral for him more than 75 years after he died.

The snowmobile's 'Founding Father' has died in Roseau

David Johnson, a co-founder of Polaris Industries, cobbled together the company's first snow machine out of parts including car bumpers 60 years ago.